April 18, 2007

Why are we allowing the Union Parish School Board and the Union Parish School District to manipulate economic policy in Union Parish?

Union Parish has long been a distant thought in the minds of most Louisiana Legislators. What rare moments occurred when those thoughts were in the forefront, were certainly the briefest of moments. This is witnessed by the deplorable conditions of the infrastructure in Union Parish. The perpetually postponed promises from our Acadiana masters, decades old and still a very distant thought, long doomed the potential of Lake D’Arbonne. Now the same scam is being run in Richland Parish with several other parishes lining up to setup their own property tax trap. Hopefully, those in a position to halt this economic waste will use Farmerville as an example of how the State wasted millions of dollars, stole countless acres of land from unwilling participants, and then, in typical fashion for North Louisiana, the State failed to launch the entire plan of improving the infrastructure around the lake.

The failure of the State to improve the highways around Lake D’Arbonne, as promised, created an economic disaster through neglect. Like much of the infrastructure in North Louisiana (I-20 comes to mind), Lake D’Arbonne was built “on the cheap”. For decades lakefront property owners have never been assured that they would not experience wide swings in the level of the lake, flooding roads and houses because insufficient capital was invested in control structures to properly maintain a more consistent water level. Only until most recently, and needed for over FORTY YEARS, have plans been approved to add an additional control structure to the Lake D’Arbonne Spillway, but history begs us to wait before celebrate. If you can’t see it and you can’t touch it, well, ….

This digression about Lake D’Arbonne was to setup a very important point that has obviously been overlooked by those in “clubs” that discuss business opportunities for Union Parish. It would seem the Union Parish Police Jury would also have something to say about this point but there is nothing official. And, more objections should be coming from Bernice, and rightfully from the whole Parish.

What objections? Each of these groups should be loudly objecting to the Union Parish School Board and the Union Parish School District manipulating economic policy in Union Parish.

Throughout the ill-fated attempts to build a consolidated high school system there was much said about the economic stimulus a new high school would provide (for Farmerville). Unfortunately, the consolidation plan ignored the negative economic impact on the majority of the Parish. The UPSD made incorrect claims that a better building would improve the quality of education, possibly as a distraction away from the harm that would be inflicted to the economies of the other parts of the Parish. This while ignoring the most important method to improve the quality of education is to improve the quality of our educators, so says Congressman Bobby Jindal, former head of the Louisiana University System, who also pointed out, that fancy buildings are nice, but buildings do not teach. Also overlooked in the consolidation plan was the need to improve discipline and the failure to address the more urgent need for an alternative school. Adding the disregard of substandard roads and our children’s safety, made a clear case of “the cart before the horse”.

Though not as important as the safety of our children in and out of the classroom, and not as important as the quality of the educators teaching our children, the TRUE economic impact of a consolidated high school system has yet received the attention it deserves.

It does not take a genius to know that the property values around ANY new school will go up substantially, but it could easily be said that there have to be some in Farmerville that believe the rest of the parish are economic idiots. If not, why are the UPSB and UPSD overlooking the potential economic catastrophe of denying the Bernice schools district its own high school?

Pointing back to the earlier digression about Lake D’Arbonne, it logically was an economic blow to Bernice when the site for the lake was confirmed. Expenditures in Union Parish at that time were about to get slim with “Fast Eddie” Edwards coming into office and Farmerville would be getting the lion share of that.

Now at a very critical time in Union Parish, Bernice is being blessed with economic development that could prove to be the primary driving force of the Union Parish economic “machine”. Geographically, it cannot be overlooked that Bernice is located at a very advantageous location, the crossroad of US Hwy 167 and LA Hwy 2. Additionally beneficial is the extra transportation arm, LA Hwy 2 Alternate. Now with the four-lane construction of US Hwy 167, ultimately connecting Little Rock and New Orleans, Bernice is in a prime location to become the economic hub of Union Parish with the best transportation infrastructure in the Parish and located in the best possible location.

However, if some on the UPSB and the entire UPSD have their way; Bernice’s chances to grow at an accelerated rate will be cast aside. Bernice will suffer yet another economic blow that would likely take more decades to overcome.

If Bernice, Louisiana loses their high school, it will be seen as a HUGE NEGATIVE to any new business wanting to take advantage of the unique location. In a bidding situation, like that for the lost Toyota Plant, competitors will quickly point out that Bernice cannot properly educate the children of employees of any new business. Even worse, the only facility available will require those employee’s children to ride hours on buses several years old, sharing narrow highways that have no shoulders with an ever increasing number of large trucks. This would likely drive any new business to locate in El Dorado, or Ruston, completely out of the Parish, and given the lunatic business taxes in Louisiana and not in Arkansas, the business might not consider Louisiana at all. Just another example of why we need Bobby Jindal in the Governor’s Office.

Mayor Joe Hicks is well-aware of how important the new development is to Bernice, and he is also aware of how devastating it will be if Bernice was to lose its regional high school. Mayor Hicks is actively working to save Bernice from this reckless disregard by reaching out to other parts of the Parish as he did meeting with Mayor Reggie Skains of Downsville and Mayor Preston Rogers of Junction City at the Downsville Community Meeting, as well as meeting with the likely next Governor of Louisiana, Congressman Bobby Jindal. Marcus Whatley, UPSB, has been very consistent in opposing the Mabry Regime, as should all the civic leaders in Bernice and the rest of the Parish. Squandering the economic potential of Bernice will be suffered by the entire Parish, and allowing a divided School Board and a “lame duck” School Superintendent to manipulate the economic health of the Parish is foolhardy at best.


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