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June 5, 2019

Seems to me there is an old country song called the “Cold Hard Facts of Life.”
Well, here are some cold, hard facts for Catahoula Parish, the facts that businesses look at before deciding to relocate to open or expand a business. According to professionals I have listened to on this issue, relocation comes down to just a few qualifications: the education system for the future workers children, and the education of the workforce; infrastructure, i.e. roads, hospitals, existing businesses; and third, recreation opportunities.
Start with education. Catahoula, according to information on the Louisiana Department of Education website, has only adequate schools. Some just get by, some do a little better, but overall, Catahoula cannot compete with LaSalle or Rapides or Natchitoches parishes when it comes to what schools can provide their students. It is a plain and simple fact: the schools here do little to entice a company to come to Catahoula Parish.
Parents wanting to escape an inferior school are willing to drive their children to a better school, at their own expense, asking the parish for not one dime for transportation. They make sacrifices to see that their children are in a safe learning environment, with a school staff interested in educating and protecting their children. But, in Catahoula, this cannot be allowed, as seen in recent letters given to over 100 children in Harrisonburg Elementary and High Schools.
The recipients of these letters are informed that unless they live in Harrisonburg or that school’s district, they will not be allowed to attend Harrisonburg High School next year. The parish education rulers seem to think that these parents will tuck their tails and send their children back to schools that seem to have the police on campus at least once every week. Lock-downs are not uncommon at these schools, either. It’s a really great learning environment, isn’t it, and one that no child should have to suffer.
This hard-line stance will only send more students out of Catahoula Parish; Delta Charter and private schools have already made inroads into the student population here. Lost students means lost MFP funds from the state government, for a parish already close to operating in the red. What will happen to the remaining schools when a goodly portion these 100 students and their families move elsewhere? We’re talking here of approximately $12,000 per student (includes the amount of salaries to provide teachers for each child); even 50 children lost would mean a loss in MFP funding of $600,000. MFP funding is based each year on student enrollment, so it is not a set figure annually. But, it is a great deal of money from the state each year for the parish to keep the schools operating.
Another consideration on the loss of students and funding is the possible downsizing of jobs in the school system, from the School Board office to the classrooms. That would mean more families having to leave Catahoula for a chance to make a living, which mean more losses of MFP funding when the children of those parents are removed from the system.
Living in this small population parish means we all know a goodly many people in the area. From what I’ve been told, there were several Harrisonburg teachers who went all over the parish, complaining about their large class sizes due to the addition of out of district children. At the same time, most Jonesville Elementary grades had 3 classes/grade, with an average of 14 students/class. It was a complaint that could have been handled by the School Board and the Superintendent, but it was ignored.
It would have been the sensible thing to do to transfer a teacher to Harrisonburg for the grade that was deemed ‘overcrowded’ by the teacher, and keep two classrooms/grade operating in Jonesville. That way, no class would have been ‘too full.’
Heaven forbid logic and reasoning be put into place in this situation, which makes me wonder if there is perhaps an ulterior motive in play. Is the Superintendent trying to force consolidation on the parish by forcing students out of the parish? This would certainly lower the student population, which would be an argument for consolidation: just can no longer keep all those schools open anymore due to lack of money. Consolidation would also get rid of some teachers, for they would no longer be needed. I doubt the administrative offices would be affected, for they never seem to be.
Are the powers-that-be planning to ship Central and Harrisonburg students and teachers to Jonesville (which is the center of the parish), and close the schools in those communities? It surely does look like a possibility.
Despite the negative, whining teachers in Harrisonburg, there were more teachers that appreciated the extra children and the contribution that they and their families made to the school. Most were honor roll students, and their parents were reliable contributors to all the fund raisers that the school held. Well, now all that is gone, and the griping teachers can settle back into their little world of fewer students and fewer papers to grade. Oh, and fewer dollars to spend, too.