Lafayette board buys land by school to ease traffic congestion

In an effort to relieve traffic and parking congestion at Milton Elementary/Middle School, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted Wednesday to buy 1.3 acres adjacent to the school.

The purchase of the property for $180,000 includes an agreement by the owner to tear down an unoccupied home on the site.

Traffic congestion before and after school for student drop-off and pick-up has long been an issue for the school. Last year, the board purchased less than an acre adjacent to the school for $69,000 to help ease some of the congestion.

The purchase Wednesday was approved unanimously by board members present without discussion. Greg Awbrey was the only board member absent.

In other business Wednesday, the board unanimously approved hiring security for its meetings. The item passed without discussion among board members, though board president Hunter Beasley answered a question from a parent about the need for an officer to attend the meetings.

Beasley suggested that the board hire security and the board’s vote Wednesday approved a policy to hire a school resource officer at the board president’s discretion.

Beasley said the school board is one of the few public bodies that does not have security at its meetings. The board doesn’t have any recourse if someone is disruptive or disrespectful during a board meeting, Beasley said.

“I can calm them down. I can bang the gavel, but if they don’t cease, there’s not much I can do,” Beasley said. “I cannot expect staff to subdue or calm them down or remove them from the building. I can’t expect board members to do that either.”

Beasley proposed that the officer attend only regularly scheduled board meetings.

He estimated security would cost about $30 an hour for about five hours a meeting, however, most meetings so far this year have been less than five hours. Based on Beasley’s calculations, security could cost the board about $5,500 annually.

The last time security was at a board meeting was for a Feb. 13 special meeting to discuss an insurance consultant’s demand for payment for work related to the selection of an insurance administrator.

The meeting followed a raucous Feb. 5 regularly scheduled board meeting that ended with board member Tehmi Chassion calling Lafayette police to file a complaint against superintendent Pat Cooper.

Chassion alleged Cooper yelled at him and grabbed his arm during a closed door conversation among board members about the insurance consultant’s demand letter. No arrest was made and Chassion’s complaint is under review by the city prosecutor’s office.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, board member Mark Babineaux questioned the status of a program for teen mothers and their children housed on Northside High’s campus. Babineaux said on his recent visit to the campus, the portable buildings used for the program were locked and it appeared that work was still being done on one of the buildings.

The program was to start in January for teen parents and pregnant teens to teach them parenting skills and also provide free child care to enable parent-child learning opportunities. So far, at least seven teen girls are in the program, but delays related to the inspection of the portable building used for child care services has prevented students’ children from attending the program, according to June Inhern, assistant early childhood director.

The program was delayed in part to raise private funds, Cooper said, since the board only approved $100,000 to cover renovations to prepare a building for children.

Babineaux questioned the decision to locate the program on Northside’s campus.

“I understand from the principal and dean of students over there that they teach abstinence over there, and it just creates a lot of dissension among students there,” Babineaux said.

When board member Rae Trahan also raised the issue of why the program was on a high school campus that teaches abstinence, Cooper interjected, “We want them to be abstinent.”