By Kevin Shannahan
If nothing else, the muscular exercise of First Amendment rights that was the NPSB Town Hall Meeting at Marthaville School last Tuesday served to illustrate the deep divisions that underlie political life in our parish as well as our state and nation. The school board and superintendent are public officials and thus accountable to the citizenry. The Town Hall, while a bit strident, was firmly within the embrace of the First Amendment. It was not the tone of the audience during the meeting that gave me pause, but rather the nature of the concerns. The school district and its leadership must take immediate proactive steps to restore citizens’ trust in the system.
No citizen or group can expect to get everything they want. Conversely, nobody should feel their needs and concerns are ignored.
The meeting was an alarming symptom of a much deeper and intractable problem, a lack of trust, years in the making between a sizeable number of Marthaville residents and the school board and its leadership. Marthaville’s town hall meeting drew a far larger crowd than the other community meetings and drew a far more passionate response than any of the others.
Judging by the uniformly expressed sentiments given that night, the community feels ignored and ill used by the school board and its leadership. The 2021 proposal for a new high school Dr. Eloi proposed when he first took office still rankles as does the recent school board vote, despite a plea for the proposal to be tabled, to combine the Cloutierville and Provencal taxing districts as the Cloutierville school has closed and its students sent to Provencal. Speakers expressed concerns about a possible combining of the Natchitoches and Marthaville districts that would leave the Marthaville community “outvoted” and taxed to support schools outside of their community. There were also concerns as to the fate of Marthaville’s sizable 20 mill tax, presently dedicated solely to the Marthaville school. Then there was the desire of many members of the Marthaville community for the reopening of their K-12 school, closed since the system’s integration, perhaps the crux of the whole situation.
One simple first step is entirely within the district leadership’s control and will go a long way in restoring a semblance of trust. Restore transportation to and from NCHS for students participating in sports and extracurricular activities and follow through to ensure the bus runs as it should. It is an entirely reasonable request and a matter of equity. A child unable to participate in band, orchestra, sports, or other activity is being essentially denied an important part of their high school experience. This is an easy management by walking around type fix that should have been found and corrected earlier.
The balance of the other issues is not nearly as amenable to fixes, easy, or otherwise. Failure over the years to honestly address them head on, combined with the rising distrust of government and institutions evident in our nation, have resulted in a toxic stew of dysfunction and distrust. This will not be easy or comfortable to remediate.
Nonetheless, both sides, it saddens me to describe them as such, as if the rural and city parts of our parish were facing off across the DMZ in Korea instead of being part of the same community, must take steps to heal this rift. It does our parish no good to continue in this manner.
There are children from Marthaville, Provencal, Goldonna, and the other rural areas of Natchitoches parish at Natchitoches Central. They play on the school’s teams. They excel in the classroom and participate fully in the life of the school. In the past few years, NCHS has produced 2 Literary Rally winners, the best in the state in their subjects. There are 17 students with perfect LEAP scores, 20 students with ACT scores over 30, each honored with a banner in the school’s atrium. The band and orchestra routinely win awards. NCHS’ Army JROTC earned a perfect grade in its last inspection, one of a handful the inspector awarded in his entire career.
They, and their fellow NCHS Chiefs, are doing their part. We, as adults, need to do ours.
I do not know what it will take to heal this alienation so many feel towards the system, but it needs to happen. This degree of rancor and alienation is good for neither the parish, nor any of its children.
A NPSB Town Hall Meeting was held on Tuesday, June 27, 2023 in Marthaville