Judge issues restraining order to stop school board vote on consolidation

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Location, funds, history foundation of controversy

Carolyn Roy | News Editor

Motel 6

District Judge Lala B. Sylvester issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) Thursday afternoon that shut down, for the time being, the school board’s plan to move forward with building a new high school. The order was signed at 2:39 p.m. prior to the scheduled 5 p.m. board meeting. According to the suit, Marthaville resident Randall Hennigan sought the TRO to stop the school board from consolidating Districts 6, 8 and 10 into District 11 or altering the boundaries of Districts 8 and 9 into District 11, or other similar action.

This article published in the June 5-6, 2021, print edition

There will be a hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, June 16.

According to the suit, the reason for the consolidation of the Marthaville, Provencal and Cloutierville areas would be to build a new high school. The suit says if the new high school is built in the proposed location on Waterwell Road, students from Marthaville will be travelling an hour by bus, restricting student access to an education and prohibiting them from participating in extracurricular activities.

Marthaville citizens will comprise about 50 percent or more of the tax base for proposed District 11, but those students would travel the greatest distance. The suit says the new high school would threaten the viability of Marthaville’s existing tax dollars and take away from the Pre-K -eighth grade school. “As a result, the citizens will, in essence, have no say in any future decisions regarding where the high school is located. Without the injunctive relief sought, the unconstitutional consolidation will be voted upon and likely adopted.” The TRO may have shut down the board action but it didn’t shut down residents at the committee meeting Tuesday.

The room was filled with Marthaville residents opposing the action and those from the Provencal and Cloutierville areas favoring it. At the Tuesday meeting, the reoccurring concern was the timing of the vote and proposed location. Districts 6, 8 and 10 passed BRE (building, repair and equipment) millages that support maintenance of their schools. To build a new high school, the board would combine those districts and pass new taxes. The Cloutierville tax expired and those in Marthaville and Provencal are set to expire this year. The proposal is to pass a 12-mill tax in the new district.

Marthaville has a 20-mill tax and roughly a $4 million balance. The fund at Provencal is nearly depleted because of renovations but will increase with tax collections. Bermuda resident Larry Paige made the most predictive statement, “You can live through consolidation, but you’re not going to make us all happy.” People from the Provencal, Flora, Cloutierville and Cane River areas generally favored building the school on board property on Waterwell Road since it would shorten bus rides.

Students in the southern part of the parish already have long bus rides. Marthaville folks were not convinced Waterwell Road is not already the chosen site. Supt. Grant Eloi told the packed room the process would take, conservatively estimating, five to six years. Director of Finance Lee Waskom said, “Consolidation does not say the school has to be built immediately.” He said it could take up to five years to select the site, have a BRE election and then a bond election.

Board member Beverly Broadway, who represents the Marthaville district, said she is striving for unity in the community and hopes an appropriate location will be found. Board member Reba Phelps said she received e-mails against consolidation, 20 saying leave out Marthaville and 46 for consolidation.

Board member Rhonda Guidroz said the majority of people she talked to favored consolidation. “We want a smaller school setting. I’m not inclined to kick this can down the road.“

Steve Rachal, a Flora resident, commended the committee for the decision to create a high school for the people outside Natchitoches City limits. “It’s not a turf war, as long as we have access to a school,” he said. “Do what’s best for the kids. If we can’t get together, the kids will go to Natchitoches Central.”

Phillip Strahan said the idea of a third school was met with both excitement and animosity. He went to St. Mary’s for activities and sports and the parish lost many students because of the commute. He said although the new school was a great idea, it had taken shape in only two months and more time was needed.

Katie Mitchell vehemently opposed the consolidation. She favored La. Hwy. 117 as an alternate location.

Cory Mims said he favored consolidation because it made good business sense although he understood the emotions involved.

Stephanie Parker attended one of the board’s town hall meetings. She said all the board heard was “K-12 or nothing” and all the people heard was “Waterwell Road or nothing.”

“It will affect generations to come,” Parker said.

Donna Masson of Cloutierville believed consolidation would be the best economic decision and no one district could support a high school.

Former Marthaville school board member Carroll Daniels said he believed the Marthaville BRE funds were about to be drained and asked the board to consider building the school on the El Camino Réal highway.

Laura Strahan of Marthaville said it would be hard to pass the BRE tax if the districts were consolidated. She believed the other districts saw Marthaville as a “cash cow.”

Richard Bruce of Marthaville said he was against consolidation and if it passed, “Marthaville would do everything to shut it down (BRE election).” He said the district would lose money and students.

Board president Steve Harris concluded the meeting by saying everything has a season. “If this is not the right season, it won’t blossom. Is it the time to plant? We plant now for down the road.”

 Times intern Sierra Pesnell contributed to this story