The Iberville Parish School Board this week approved spending $325,000 to renovate the district's central office building, but the board president and another member say they were confused about what they were voting on and hope to have the board's decision thrown out.
The proposal passed on a 6-3 vote. Board President Polly Higdon and board member Melvin Lodge say, however, that they oppose the proposal, and if they had fully understood what they were voting on, it would have failed on a 5-4 vote.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had this predicament; it really is heart-wrenching for me,” Higdon said Tuesday.
If the district proceeds with the repair, employees would shuffle among four existing buildings at the Plaquemine administrative complex. It would provide more office space for employees and a larger school board meeting room.
Higdon was among many board members who expressed an opinion about the motion prior to the vote, sharing the sentiment of most opponents who said the money would be better spent on school facilities that directly benefit students and teachers. She and Lodge both said they wouldn’t be opposed to working on the central office, but it’s not a current priority.
The board members who spoke in favor of the remodel funding said the central office employees deserve an upgraded work environment, as they too have an important role in the school district.
Several board members specifically cited the need for a larger board room, referencing the beginning of the meeting when more than a dozen high school band members weaved between chairs and huddled in front of the board to be recognized for recent achievements.
“Our board room is too small, and our employees do a great job. They keep up with a lot of stuff that helps us and our children, and they do have small areas to work with,” board member Theresa Roy said at the meeting. “I think they deserve that too just as our teachers deserve (funding).”
The voting confusion came about because the funding approval was initially tucked into a catch-all request to approve the board’s finance committee recommendations.
Member Michael Hebert, who voted against the funding, motioned to pull the item relating to the $325,000 renovation out from the minutes so the board could vote on that piece separately.
Specifically, the board was asked to approve the finance committee meeting recommendations except the renovation funding — a move that multiple board members evidently took to mean they would be approving all items except the funding, which they would deny.
Hebert, Glyna Kelley, Yolanda Laws, Lodge and Higdon voted "Aye" on that motion. A second motion was presented directly following to specifically approve the renovation funding, which garnered a "Nay" vote from Hebert, Kelley and Laws.
Lodge and Higdon believed they had already voted against the funding in their prior vote, they said.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t want to do that, but we have other things that are more of a priority, so I wanted to vote to delay that work,” Lodge said Tuesday. At the meeting, he specifically referred to school cafeterias in need of equipment as a higher priority.
The board originally approved $100,000 in February 2017 for the construction of a welcome center at the central office and another $325,000 in November 2017 for upgrades that included painting and flooring.
The additional $325,000 requested at Monday’s meeting would have addressed all buildings in the complex — the central office, the federal programs building, the Distefano building and the WO Williams building — to enlarge office and meeting space.
Lodge called Superintendent Arthur Joffrion on Tuesday seeking to put the motion back on the agenda for a new vote, as he said he’d received multiple calls from board members who felt there was too much confusion surrounding the wording of the motion.
Joffrion wasn’t available to comment Wednesday on the process for or legality of recalling a vote. The board is next scheduled to meet March 11.