Plea: Delay school pullout

Iberville Parish’s legislative delegation wants St. Gabriel city officials to allow at least a year for the parish school system to make improvements before trying to set up a new municipal school district to serve east-side children, Mayor Lionel Johnson said Friday.

Johnson said, however, east-side residents have “no confidence” in Iberville School Superintendent Ed Cancienne’s ability to meet their needs.

“We remain disappointed with the superintendent and his response to our desire to improve the school system on the east bank of the parish,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “The superintendent has officially known about our desire to form an independent school district for two months now and has come forth with virtually no plan to even begin addressing our grievances.”

There are nine public schools in Iberville Parish, seven on the west bank and two on the east bank: East Iberville Elementary and High School and the Math, Science and Arts Academy-East Campus.

Johnson said the two schools in the St. Gabriel area have personnel, facilities and service needs that the school district has ignored for years while it placed increasing resources into west bank schools.

Johnson was scheduled to appear before the Iberville Parish School Board on Monday but didn’t address members after meeting separately with Superintendent Cancienne, state Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales; and state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville. Brown took part in the meeting via conference call.

Johnson said that during the meeting, Cancienne offered up to $5 million of the school district’s $15 million surplus to build a gym and baseball field at MSA-East. Johnson said Cancienne’s purpose in proposing a $5 million project for MSA-East would be to settle down the community’s interest in splitting from the school district.

“He still does not get it,” Johnson said of Cancienne’s offer. “Pretty buildings don’t educate children. If he has $5 million he can appropriate to the east side and he had known about the deficiencies, why does it take a proposed pullout to dedicate funds to the east side?”

Upon learning about the mayor’s comments Friday, Cancienne responded, “Apparently he doesn’t want to give me the opportunity to work with them.”

Cancienne said the school system, meanwhile, has had to cut back on spending due to employees’ increasing healthcare and retirement costs.

But as a result of the recent property reassessment, the school district will have the money to invest in improving its east bank schools, Cancienne said.

“Things change. Now we’re in a position to give more support,” he said.

Cancienne added, “My interpretation from state legislators at the meeting was to give (me) and the School Board the opportunity to address things.”

But Johnson said St. Gabriel officials still want Price and Brown to prefile a bill in the 2013 Legislature seeking permission for Iberville’s east side to start the process of breaking away from the parish school district.

Such independent school districts are created through passage of state constitutional amendments that must first win two-thirds majority votes in both the state House and Senate.

Then, the constitutional amendment propositions must win majority support on both statewide and parishwide election ballots.

Price could not be reached at his office Friday, and calls to Brown’s cellphone were not answered.

Brown has said previously that St. Gabriel’s breakaway ambitions seem “premature” at this time. Also, he said, the parish delegation has not had sufficient time to prepare a breakaway bill in time for the April 8 opening of the Legislature’s 2013 regular session.

Proposed constitutional amendment bills must be prefiled by noon Thursday, March 28, in the Senate; or noon Friday, March 29, in the House, according to the Legislature’s website.

Mayor Johnson said Iberville’s east bank residents intend to meet on the breakaway issue next week and they hope Cancienne will attend.

“We want to see leadership from him; he’s the superintendent,” Johnson said. “Before we negotiate, we want to know that he has a genuine concern for the education of all Iberville Parish students, including the east bank.”

Cancienne said he would “love to attend the meeting,” but as of Friday he had yet to receive any details about when and where it would take place.