Minden businessman John Madden has asked the Webster Parish School Board to look into obtaining unitary status – a move that would mean the system could operate without Federal Court oversight. It was a request also made by Superintendent Steve Dozier during the May 14 WPSB meeting.
"I would like to see y'all change something or at least talk about changing things to move to unitary status and move our school system in the right direction," Madden said during Monday night's meeting. "I don't want to make any one uncomfortable; I know it is a pretentious issue when we talk about black and white issues. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I do want to address the situation."
The only response to Madden's request came from District 6 board member Robert Holloway, who at the end of the meeting requested board attorneys review the requirements of unitary status and discuss the topic with the board during a workshop.
While his request will be added to the minutes of the meeting, so was Dozier's request.
"I bring this to the table," Dozier said, "because of some issues with restricted hiring practices with the federal court order."
According to Dozier, currently, oversight by the Federal Court requires the board to hire Webster Parish tenured employees for administrative positions.
"If you have a good candidate from outside the parish, you cannot hire them for an administrator position unless you go back to the court and seek approval," Dozier said.
After Dozier's request was mentioned during the May 14 meeting, it was decided the board would have a workshop on the pros and cons of moving to unitary status.
Madden feels discussions should happen soon as he predicts difficulties finding Webster Parish tenured teachers in coming years, because of legislation passed in Act 1. The new law requires teachers to have "exemplary" evaluations for five out of six years. If the exemplary status is lost after tenure is obtained, so is tenure.
"I beg you to work together and come up with an equitable arrangement whereby the board's hands are untied and we can hire anyone from anywhere," he said. "Under the current court order, out-of-district applicants are precluded to apply for those positions, no matter their race."
"For more than 40 years we have been working to obtain unitary status," Madden continued. "After making historic changes in the north end of the parish, (and) fully integrating (in that area), I am asking you to see where we are in meeting the various court order factors. I want us to work collectively, black and white, to strive toward being unitary."
Maddens said he feels changes that have been made to bring Webster Parish in line with court orders have been made because of financial reasons, rather than a concentrated effort to abide by the decrees.
"My sole purpose for making this challenge is to further the educational possibilities for Webster Parish students," he said. "As far as I am concerned, it is not about how many black or white teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, maintenance and cafeteria workers there are. It is about giving the children the best education they can get with public dollars."
A statement frequently made by Madden, which he repeated to the board, is "Webster Parish is 52nd out of 70 schools districts in Louisiana and Louisiana is 48th out of 50 states in education." However, Madden said he is willing to change that mantra if he is supplied with new facts and figures.
While Madden may be disappointed with the WPSB in some aspects, he said he still wants to work toward a goal of bettering the school system.
"We need to do this, not for the black or the white, not for me or for y'all, but for the kids," he said. "It just disheartens me that I even need to ask grown folks to work together for kids."
Madden offered his understanding to sensitivities that often accompany racial topics.
"I am very sympathetic to the argument brought forth by the black civic leaders demanding proportional representation in faculty and administrative staff positions," he said. "The blacks want to hold on to the court order, because there is a comfort in it. The whites want to hold on to it because the administration can't come from outside of the district.
"Everyone seems to have their own agenda," continued Madden. "They are all playing power brokers around this table and it is all at the demise of the education system for the children of Webster Parish. I just think this is a new day, and we all need to start working together for the benefit of Webster Parish children."