Livingston school board member decides 28 years is enough

Martin first took office in 1987

Keith Martin has decided 28 years serving on the Livingston Parish School Board is enough. He will not seek re-election in November.

Martin, who was first elected to the School Board in the fall of 1986, said when he first mentioned the possibility of his retiring to a few friends at the end of last year, they asked him to give it some time to make certain he was ready.

He’s ready, he said Friday.

“I just retired a couple years ago from Exxon, and I knew at that time it was the right time to go, and I know now is the right time to get off the board,” Martin said. “I don’t have the energy I used to have to tackle some of these battles I feel like need to be tackled.”

One of those battles is keeping up with the financial and construction needs of a growing school district.

When Martin first took office in January 1987, the School Board spent less than $30 million annually to operate schools for the district’s 13,000 students. Now, the Board oversees a general fund budget of nearly $200 million for the education of more than 25,000 students.

The educational landscape is also constantly evolving, with the state’s adoption — and possible reneging of its adoption — of new educational standards, accountability measures and other initiatives.

“I know the state implements all these things because they’re trying to upgrade test scores, but one thing that aggravates me is, they always come out with these new programs to improve curriculum or academics or test scores, but they don’t give any of them long enough to work,” Martin said.

Martin said it is a testament to the parish’s teachers, students and parents that the district’s scores continue to improve despite the upheaval.

Another ongoing battle, particularly for Martin’s District 8, is the school system’s lawsuit over ownership of Section 16 lands near French Settlement.

Section 16 lands are 640-acre tracts the federal government gave to the state in trust for the benefit of public education. The tracts are called Section 16 lands because the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 initiated the rectangular survey of public lands into 36-section townships, with the 16th section of each township later being dedicated to public education.

While property deeds for Section 16 lands have always belonged to the states, public school systems control the use of the land and would pocket the revenue from any timber sales or mineral rights exercised there.

The School Board filed suit in January 2012 against 51 purported landowners within a 143-acre portion of the parish’s Section 16 land near French Settlement.

The School Board disputes that the state ever sold any of the land, although three subdivisions have been built there — Colyell Campsites, Colyell Bay Campsites and Colyell Homesites — and many of the resulting lots are occupied by mobile homes or permanent structures.

Martin said the lawsuit is part of a “long, drawn-out battle” that has been in the making for more than a decade.

“It’s a hot item, not popular on either side,” he said. “Battles like that will take a lot of energy, and it’s a shame that I don’t have it because I do have more time (since retiring from Exxon).”

Martin said he isn’t sure who might run for the District 8 seat in November. However, he said potential candidates should know that, despite the state’s curtailing of School Board power, board members still have the hefty responsibility of serving their districts and the system as a whole.

“Fight for what you think is right, knowing you’re not always going to be right,” he said. “You’ll make some happy; you’ll make others mad; but at the end, people will judge you on the whole of what you did.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen