John Winston responds to Times articles

John Winston

John E. Winston’s response to the two articles in the Natchitoches Times: JT Column, May 3, and Dale Skinner article in the Weekend Edition, May 12-13 in his own words.

This is in response to two items that appeared in the Natchitoches Times, one under the heading of the JT Column in the May 3, 2018 edition and the other was the front page article in the Weekend Edition, May 12-13, 2018, by Dale Skinner, Superintendent of Natchitoches Parish Schools. Juanice Gray from the Natchitoches Times said she tried to contact me for a reply but was told I was out of town.

I was out of state and when I returned home I saw where someone from the Natchitoches Times did try to contact me. I want to respond, once and for all, to the articles on behalf of the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League. Let me start by telling you what the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League is. This organization is a civic organization, chartered by the state of Louisiana and organized for the uplift of minorities and poor people, regardless of race. Our membership at the present is made up of just minorities but anyone can join if they are concerned about the issues we represent. We are concerned with the uplift in education, economic development, social welfare and every aspect of human development. Membership in this organization is open to anyone who is concerned with the uplift of minorities and poor people, especially black people, in this parish. Let me first address the comments made in the JT column.

I was compared to the late Mr. Ben D. Johnson when he was president of the Voters and Civic League. The implication, in the column, was that we seem to not have any power to persuade the Black people in Natchitoches Parish to vote one way or the other. We never claimed to have Dictatorial power over the Black people in the parish. We are, for your information, JT, an organization that functions democratically. We have seven committees that give me items monthly and I prepare the agenda in such a manner that if we need to add additional items we do so before we move forward with the meeting. That is our process. I am not a dictator nor would I ever try to be a dictator. My job is to give as much information as I can to address any issues we may have, or bring in someone with more expertise than I have on an issue so that they can clarify the issues we are dealing with at the time.

The membership discusses the issues and then they decide by vote the action they want to proceed with. Whatever the majority vote is, that becomes the official position of the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League. As of now we have over 350 paying members on roll although that many do not attend every meeting. We are constantly recruiting new members and we hope that one day we will all be on the same page and lock step and vote. In reference to block voting, we realize that the white population has always used block voting, especially when there is a comparison between a black and a white issue, the majority of the whites will vote together against black candidates. Take for instance the elections of 2008 and 2012.

Barrack Obama only received 17% of the votes in Louisiana each time. Who was block voting? Was it the blacks or the whites? And it has always been that way. I am not sure what it is you expect out of us. We are going to try to use our power of the vote for those issues that hopefully will uplift the minorities and poor people of this community and the parish. Now, if you have an issue with that, I do not apologize. Now on the issue of the turnout of the last election. We only had 12% of the people voting on the bond issue, that is 12%, both white and black. It is impossible to say that anyone, including Dale Skinner, had any stroke with persuading people to go out and vote. There was not a large difference in the yes and no votes in the black voting boxes. It was the white community that really pushed this yes vote over, not the black boxes.

Twelve percent turnout suggest that no one is teaching the young people about their civic responsibility and it appears that they have given up on this issue of democracy. If we don’t do a better job as a country and teach our civic duty in our school, we may be doomed since it is not being practiced by our present voting population. The problem is much bigger than the Natchitoches Parish voters and Civic League! I recently met the Mayor down on St. Denis Street as he was walking, and after greeting each other he laughed and said, “Dale Skinner kicked the Voters League’s –ss. I couldn’t help but think, “What have we gotten to when the Mayor is making a joke about 12% of the people voting?’ We should all be crying if 12% is all we can look to in the future. I, for one, will continue to do all I can to encourage the Black people to go vote because that is that sacred honor that our ancestors died for. If we stop voting everything will be lost and we will be headed toward a dictatorship. I would think that no race wants a dictatorship. Now that is all I have to say about JT and the 12% turnout and comparing me to Mr. Ben D. Johnson because there is no comparison. I am not in this struggle for fame or fortune, I am just in this to try to make a difference in this community while I am here.

The second thing that I want to talk about is either the misunderstanding of my words or an out -right lie of the conversation between Dale Skinner and myself when we met for lunch with his Finance Director, Mr. Foshee, and Mr. Robert Jackson. I would like to start by quoting the first paragraph of the letter that was sent out on April 5, 2018, by the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League and signed by me as President. And I quote “At our regular monthly meeting, the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League, Inc. voted to oppose the upcoming mileage tax that is being proposed by the Natchitoches Parish School Board.

The intent of our opposition is not directed at the students nor school personnel of this parish, but as a form of protest against the Superintendent. We recognize more money is needed in the school system, however, due to the unacceptable attitude of the Superintendent Dale Skinner, who continues to disrespect school personnel and other adults, we voted unanimously to oppose the tax. Further, the majority of the School Board not only refuse to reprimand him, but voted to give him two additional years on his contract, and additionally voted to give him $18,000 for travel expense for the past three years while still running a deficit at that time, according to Mr. Foshee.

We recognize that this year is the first time a balance budget has been presented in a long time. Finally, it should be noted that a majority of the community feels that extending his contract was a very bad idea”. So I am asking Mr. Skinner, where is the lie that was told? The letter further stated, “Please join us by voting no to this and any other tax increase until the School Board hires another superintendent and show the public that they are really serious about getting rid of these “D” and “F” schools. Y

our choice to vote yes or no is the only item on the ballot. Thank you for your help and “no” vote on early voting dates, April 13-20, and regular voting day on April 28, 2018. Where is the lie, Mr. Skinner? There is no lie in the letter. You just balanced the budget this year. You did get an $18,000.00 for back pay that you said was for travel. The Board voted to give you an extension of your contract for two more years. Where is the lie? As for your conduct, what did you do to Marvin Blake who is a teacher at Natchitoches Central High School? So, Dale Skinner, when you and I met, along with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Foshee at the Trail Boss, I admitted to you that I made a mistake in not talking to you first and not trying to resolve issues that we had before we voted to oppose the tax. But once the Voters League voted it was too late to do anything.

I never agreed or told you that I agreed that we had made a mistake in agreeing to not vote for the tax. I never said that to you and for you to say otherwise is not the truth and you know it and so does Mr. Foshee and Mr. Jackson. Everyone that knows me know that I don’t back off of you are anyone else. So let me say this, there is no such thing as a lie that I told you. When you called me and asked me to make a robo call and tell the people that I had made a mistake, I told you no I would not do that. For one thing, I had no authority to do that. That is the job of the membership of the League, and if they wanted to resend their position they would have to do so, not me. Next, I would like to talk about the reorganization of the schools in the city of Natchitoches. Yes, we have D and F schools. Do you think we are a bunch of ignorant people and don’t understand why you convinced the Board to combine Parks and L.P. Vaughn?

These schools remained D and F schools and were about to be taken over from the system and put under state control so you reconfigured the schools and put two grades at each school. Thus, all the schools became new schools. Maybe you think the public is not aware of what you did, but we know and understand. You have the same curriculum and to my knowledge you are not putting any more money in the schools, other than repair of facilities, such as lighting, security, equipment with this tax mileage. If the curriculum remains the same that appear to be insane. Common sense dictates that if you keep on doing the same old thing, the same old way, and expect a different result that is insane. Unless you have some intervening variables in the school we will continue to see the same old thing even though you will have two grades per school. We also understand that the schools in the city have a majority Black student body. In the city you have the two laboratory schools with a population that is majority white and affluent, and you have the Magnet School that is supposed to be fifty percent white.

These three schools are drawing the brightest students, therefore you don’t have the leadership in the other schools that you need to pull the students up because children learn from each other as well as learning from the teachers. Also, your recent plan to send the students that live in Natchez and previously attend Provencal to Cloutierville is really not to give them a shorter bus route but rather to make Provencal mostly white school. According to the news media, this was not discussed in Committee on the previous Tuesday, instead it was on the agenda for the regular meeting. This is not surprising in that this maneuver would not allow for public comment at the regular meeting. Since we are no longer under the desegregation court order the white children that live in the city and don’t attend one of the Lab schools or the Magnet will end up going to Provencal. We are not surprised by your action because action always speak louder than words.

And you really think we don’t understand that! And yes, many of us in the Black community are still angry over you taking the students from Parks and putting them at L.P. Vaughn and giving Parks to the Magnet School, creating the largest elementary school in the city, and both had a D and F rating. Your explanation for this move fell on deft ears because any intelligent person know that you don’t take a school with a F score and put it with a school with a D score and expect progress according to state standards. And finally, by passing this tax for maintenance you have freed up money to go into the general fund. I hope most of the freed up money will go in the general fund and be used to give teachers a raise. If so, it may serve to keep the good teachers and attract more certified teachers and maybe improve the educational climate across Natchitoches Parish. That is my hope. But as far as I see it, the thing that has driven Natchitoches Parish over the years has been race and racism.

Racism not only in the schools but the schools are a reflection of Natchitoches Parish. We see segregated communities because of racial practices in the past in housing patterns and what have you. We still see the pattern where housing in the moderate price range of $95,000 to $125, 000 are not being built, so poor people cannot buy a house so they have to rent. We see racism in the way the schools have been configured but there is nothing we can do about it because the conservative judges have made their rulings and they want to get rid of the Civil Rights cases.

That is why Judge Drell went along with you, Mr. Skinner, to resolve this issue once and for all. We had seventeen items that we still took issue with but he didn’t care. But I am saying to you and all other school personnel, it is time to put race aside. And you need to take an introspective look at racism and see how pervasive it is and everything that goes on in Natchitoches Parish and see how insidious it is. Racism has become so insidious and so pervasive that we kind of accept it and take it for granted as being normal and it is not normal. It is not normal, it is not the way you treat other human beings. I don’t understand how the color of a person skin is so important to middle and lower class whites, notwithstanding their social status, economic condition and education that they continue to vote for policies that adversely affect them just as much as they affect black people.

Is race that important that they are willing to suffer, believing that somehow the color of a person skin makes them better than others? Finally, I feel sorry for those black Uncle Toms who are satisfied with accepting the crumbs from the master’s table, and who are satisfied with being second. I am not, and many like me are not. It’s true that if any handouts are to be given, they are first in line. I would rather die than accept second class citizenship.

And so, in closing, I ask you to consider some of the things I have said and look introspectively and ask yourself if it were you, would you still put on that shoe?