City leaders, residents at odds over what to name new high school in Youngsville _lowres

Ken Ritter

An advisory committee’s ranking of possible names for a new high school to be built in Youngsville isn’t sitting well with the city’s mayor and some city residents because Youngsville High School wasn’t one of the top two choices.

But officials from the neighboring city of Broussard aren’t enamored with naming the school Youngsville High, either, even suggesting it would be difficult to pass a new property tax for schools in April if the board chooses to name the school Youngsville High.

The process of naming the school has provoked heated discussion and howls of protest since the advisory committee ranked Caneview High and Cypress High as first and second choices for naming the school, with Youngsville High and Veterans Memorial High ranked third and fourth.

There’s been a flurry of calls, texts and emails to some committee members from those unhappy with the outcome. And there was even a fiery encounter between Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter and Sandra Billeaudeau, the school system’s district planning administrator, who’s coordinating the committee’s work.

Ritter said he emailed Billeaudeau and Superintendent Donald Aguillard asking to see how committee members voted. He said his request was denied and that Billeaudeau visited his office, accusing her of bullying him for questioning the transparency of the process. Billeaudeau said Ritter was upset about the committee’s vote that didn’t include Youngsville High as one of the top two choices and wrongly questioned the integrity of the process.

The bottom line: After paring a list of 17 suggestions down to four during its first meeting Monday and ranking its top four choices, the 10-member advisory committee still has more work.

Aguillard sent an email to committee and School Board members on Wednesday clarifying that all four names would be considered again by the advisory committee when it meets in January. At that meeting, the committee will narrow down the list of four and make a recommendation to the School Board, which will have the final say in the school’s name, Aguillard wrote.

Meanwhile, Billeaudeau has set up meetings with Comeaux High students and middle school students who likely will be zoned to attend the school as a way to gather their input on the names and other suggestions for school colors and the mascot. Those suggestions also will be shared with the committee and board, Aguillard said in his email.

As for Ritter’s request to view how the committee members voted, Billeaudeau said the vote actually shows that Caneview received enough committee votes to be recognized as the first and second choice of the committee, with Cypress ranking third. She said she refused Ritter’s request because he didn’t submit a formal request and she also was seeking to protect the volunteers who serve on the committee.

“Because of the firestorm of stuff on Facebook, I don’t want to subject these people to that,” Billeaudeau said. “He’s upset because the vote didn’t turn out for Youngsville High School. I have nothing to do with that. That’s how they voted. He is questioning our integrity — mine specifically. I told him his threats and his questioning was not necessary. This is about kids. This is why in New York, why they name schools Public School No. 43. Think about it. It’s over a name.”

Ritter said he felt bullied by Billeaudeau’s visit after he submitted his request. State public records law does not specify that a request must be made formally by written submission.

“I don’t like the lack of transparency by conducting the vote by email, and I don’t like the aggressive, unprofessional manner she took coming here unannounced when I asked for the details of the email,” Ritter said Wednesday afternoon.

The committee’s rankings after narrowing the choices to four elicited strong reactions among Youngsville residents, including comments that Ritter shared on his Facebook page.

“What a disappointment,” he wrote on his “Mayor Ken Ritter” Facebook page. “I stand with our residents that the name should be Youngsville High. The attempt to appease a small group of people with a neutral name is not our desire.”

The Youngsville City Council voted earlier this year in support of a resolution that asks the School Board to name the school Youngsville High School. A vote on what to call the school is in the School Board’s hands and that decision likely won’t come until February or later.

On Wednesday afternoon, Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais and the Broussard City Council issued their own statement of support for naming the school Caneview or Cypress High, saying the name should be reflective of all students who will feed into the school.

“It is our opinion that to name it any other name other than Caneview or Cypress High would only serve to further drive a wedge between Broussard and Youngsville and in the last eight years, there has way been too much of that,” the statement read.

While the statement credits Ritter, who took office in January, and Simone Champagne, Youngsville’s chief administrative officer, for their collaborative work with Broussard on projects, it also warns that winning the vote of Broussard residents on the April 9 ballot may be difficult if the school is named after the neighboring city. That proposed tax is a 16-mill property tax that will fund major school construction needs and also set up a maintenance fund and revenue to sustain and expand school safety and educational programs, such as early childhood education and school resource officers.

“We also want to point out that in choosing a name that does not represent the inclusiveness of the region it represents, passing the April referendum becomes that much more difficult, especially considering it is a property tax,” the statement read.

It goes on to say that Broussard residents and businesses pay more property taxes and sales tax to the School Board than all other municipalities, except for the city of Lafayette, and that Broussard’s “opinion should be heavily considered regarding the naming of the high school. We urge the School Board to be mindful of these facts when making their final selection.”

Billeaudeau issued her own news release after Broussard officials sent their statement out to the media. Her statement referenced “a troubling sequence of events” that followed the release of the committee’s voting results.

“We recognize the heightened interest and emotions that (are) entangled in the naming of this new high school,” Billeaudeau wrote. “This is an exciting time for Lafayette Parish to build a new high school that will serve students from the cities of Lafayette, Milton, Broussard and Youngsville areas. We are cognizant of all citizens’ desires, but we must be and will remain neutral because we serve all students and communities.”

During the advisory committee’s meeting on Monday, Billeaudeau encouraged the committee to consider that the school will enroll students outside of Youngsville, including Broussard, Milton and Lafayette, and those students may feel excluded if the school is called Youngsville High.

Some committee members noted that students who don’t live in Carencro, Scott, Lafayette or Youngsville currently attend schools that bear the same names as those cities. Committee members who discussed the importance of not alienating segments of the community supported naming the school Caneview or Cypress High.

On Wednesday, committee members Matt Romero and Dan Bloomer suggested in separate emails sent to committee members that more time was needed before narrowing the list down to two choices.

Romero wrote that he’s received messages — via phone calls, texts, emails and Facebook — “with an overwhelming outpouring of support for Youngsville High School.”

“I really feel that we should give this time and review all the top names with people in our communities before cutting down the list to just two,” Romero said.

Bloomer suggested that the committee still will consider the other names, even though Caneview was a committee favorite.

He said in an email that Caneview “may remain a top choice but it is good to keep the options open until” the committee has heard from the broader base and the students who will actually attend the school.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.