BAKER — Approximately 100 people discussed problems and solutions for the Baker school system at a town hall meeting Thursday night.
Skip Smart, the director of community competitiveness for Louisiana Economic Development, explained that his organization called the meeting as part of Baker’s involvement in the Louisiana’s Development Reading Community Program.
Smart said the goal of the program is to help communities improve their economic development. Five issues, he said, are central to this process: leadership, infrastructure, marketing, labor and education.
A steering committee, which has members from both the public and private sector who have already been appointed, will develop a strategic plan for the city that will be presented to the City Council and made available for public comment, Smart said.
He told the audience that 160 people and 30 businesses took surveys on the issues facing Baker schools, and 80 percent of those surveyed cited education as a severe weakness in the community. At two previous town hall meetings, attendees echoed the same sentiment, he said.
Smart invited attendees to come to the microphone. Over a dozen people spoke, addressing issues including:
Baker resident Doug Pennington encouraged the audience to get involved.
“I don’t have any children in the school system, but I know that if we don’t have a good school system, we all suffer,” Pennington said.
Gary Mitchell, the chairman of the Economic Development Subcommittee, said he is a landlord in Baker. He said he was frustrated with declining property values, which he directly attributed to low-ranking schools.
“I have people every day who tell me that they can’t bring their kids to Baker. The reason is the school system,” he said.
He added that Baker can change if everyone works together. “We don’t have to be the bottom of the wagon rut,” he said.
Smart said that the town hall meeting reflected a wish list of how Baker citizens want to see their community.
Another town hall meeting will be held to discuss the results of the Thursday meeting, Smart said.
Mayor Henry Rideau, Councilwoman Joyce Burges, Police Chief Mike Knaps and School Board member Doris Alexander attended the meeting.
Superintendent Ulysses Joseph and other School Board members — besides Alexander — did not attend.
A survey for citizens as well as notes on the meeting will be available online at http://www.cityofbakerla.us.
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