Gov. Bobby Jindal was in town Wednesday for a lunchtime meet and greet. During his remarks, the state's top elected official said difficult decisions with far reaching implications were going to have to be made regarding education in the coming legislative sessions.
Following that note, it would seem appropriate that in the final scheduled legislative forum before the Oct. 22nd election the topic of education was the most discussed.
The four candidates vying to become the next District 10 state representative participated in an hour and a half forum Thursday night at Minden High School. The event was sponsored by the Minden Press-Herald, KASO/KBEF Radio and the Minden Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The forum was aired live on KASO Radio.
Candidates participating included Republicans Ronnie Broughton, Jerri de Pingre' and Gerald Holland, as well as Democrat Gene Reynolds. The moderator was Ken Warren.
More than 50 questions were submitted to the newspaper and radio station. All questions asked were provided by the public and not supplied by the Press-Herald or KASO/ KBEF.
Of the questions submitted, 12 were drawn at random during the course of the event and posed to the participants.
Highlights included a general consensus that there is a disconnect between local school boards and "bureaucrats" in the state and federal Departments of Education. Two candidates, de Pingre' and Holland, went so far as to say the Department of Education should be abolished.
"Government is in the business of waste," Holland said.
He said he would push to cut overstaffing on the state level and cut bureaucratic interference that hinders the education system.
Along those lines, de Pingre' said, "We have got to get government out of schools. What's right in Jefferson Parish isn't going to be what's right in Webster Parish. We've got to put the power back where it belongs, give power back to the local level."
Candidate Broughton said there is a disconnect between the state and local level.
"I've fought against folks in Baton Rouge trying to micromanage," he said. "It seems they are determined to tie the hands of local school boards and micromanage."
Concerns about cutting or eliminating the TOPS program brought about a strong response from the candidates.
Reynolds likened cutting TOPS to a person cutting off their electricity when they were having a personal budget issue. It's just not a good idea.
"We can move things around to fund this program," he said. "We lose so many of our sharp kids. We must fund the college tract and technical tract to train our young people for the new jobs that are coming 10 years from now."
De Pingre' said TOPS is the best thing the state has ever done for education. She said the program gives middle income families an opportunity to send their children to college that was at one time unavailable.
She urged voters to vote YES on Constitutional Amendment 1, which is on the upcoming ballot and will ensure the continued funding of TOPS for years to come.
As for teacher tenure, Gerald Holland said he was open to looking at ways to streamline the disciplinary action process for teachers; however, he was leery of completely eliminating tenure protection.
"I do not want a teacher to be removed simply because of a personal issue with the principal or because of behind-the-scenes politics," he said. "We need a system where politics are removed and there are no arbitrary firings."
On other topics, Broughton said he was in favor of term limits for elected officials, even on the school board where he serves as a representative.
"We didn't have term limits for years and years and Louisiana was dead last in virtually every category," he said. "We voted in term limits and are now starting to make positive strides."
The candidates discussed various other issues including wasteful spending, the need to attract quality jobs to the area and how they planned to work with local governments if elected.
Broughton said jobs and education were tied.
"Good jobs will bring folks and good education will keep them," he said.
Reynolds said he was in favor of creating a formula that would give an edge to Louisiana companies when it comes to the awarding of government contracts.
"Not a guarantee, but an edge," he said. "We have a formula for everything."
As for ways to help shore up the state's finanacial difficulties, de Pingre' pointed out that Louisiana did not have a revenue problem but rather a spending problem.
She said the state has 16,000 consulting contracts, one of which she said was for a consultant to teach children how to have more fun at recess.
"Wrap your head around that number," she said. "If we could eliminate 5 percent it would save $750 million. If we renegotiated some of them we could save an additional $350 million."