Public school rally speaker challenges community to take stand, have a voice at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting

Noel Hammatt

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

A large crowd at the Unitarian Universalist Church listened to a former president of the Louisiana School Boards Association challenge the Rockford community to stand up for children at Monday’s Watchdog for Ethics in Education (WEE) “Rally to Save our Public Schools.”

Noel Hammatt offered a number of possible solutions to help solve the school district’s problems. Without going into detail about the district’s reported $50 million budget deficit or Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s $45 million proposed cuts, Hammatt reminded the audience that there’s power in numbers.

“Collectively, you can come up with better solutions than any single group in this town,” Hammatt said, referring to the necessity of open communication between public school stakeholders and the administration.

Hammatt, who served as vice president of the E. Baton Rouge Parish School Board when Sheffield was running the Recovery School District, is aware of the riffs surrounding District 205.

He’s also aware that WEE members, and others, may not be ready for the Rockford Board of Education to approve the superintendent’s cost-cutting plan which includes closing and consolidating eight schools and cutting more than 250 jobs next year.

A vote to approve those cuts could come tomorrow night as the school board meets at 7 p.m.

Hammatt said if citizens have questions, most notably with what now has been reported as a questionable budget report for fiscal 2012, they should ask for clarity before a vote is taken. The only way to get that clarity, Hammatt said, is for people to attend Tuesday’s meeting and demand answers.

“When we make decisions we ought not to be going, ‘Oh well, what’s 30 million here or there?’ We ought to know what we’re dealing with.”

The school board is scheduled to vote on budget cuts tomorrow, however, a financial review of certain categories associated with the $50 million deficit may delay the motion by at least a week.

Three areas of next year’s budget will be examined at the request of the teachers union, which claims the actual shortfall is more along the lines of $15 million.

Board members mentioned the possibility of moving tomorrow’s meeting to a larger venue, as a large crowd is expected. However, as of this report, the meeting is still slated to be held at the Administration Building, 201 S. Madison St., downtown.

The meeting is open to the public.

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