On this week's edition of "Wingin' It Wednesday", panelist Mike Stagg, Carol Ross, and Ton Angers in for Warren Caudle joined "Mornings with Ken and Bernie" to discuss proposed changes to the consolidation of Lafayette city/parish government as well as a proposition to cut schoolboard costs by eliminating teachers and staff.

Here's what the panel had to say:

1. The Chamber is suggesting a separate five-member city council that would be within the larger nine member Lafayette City Parish Council. The five members that are made up of mostly city districts would have the power to determine city-specific issues.  These issues would be things that would involving fire and police or Lafayette’s Utilities system.  What do you think of this plan?

Tom Angers started us off:

I think it's a good idea. The problem we have is that what was sold as consolidation is a non-consolidated consolidation. We've got seven political subdivisions in the parish, and six  municipalities in the parish government. They only attempted to allegedly consolidated two of them. What you had was a bad merger. The Lafayette Utility System is owned legally by the citizens of Lafayette, so you're dealing with some tremendous legal and constitutional issues. Around 48% of the residents of Lafayette Parish now live outside of the city. Frankly, this violates fundamental levels of representation and constitutional government, for non-residents to take control of that property and that money. That's one of the big problems. I suggested awhile back that if you want to do a real consolidation they should have taken the utility system and sold it to the whole parish, but that was never done.

Mike Stagg added:

I think this is lipstick on a pig.
Consolidation is fundamentally fraud. This will not fix the basic problem which was admitted last year by the Durel Administration that city money is being spent outside the city in the parish.
The fundamental problem is that this is a wealth transfer from the city of Lafayette to the rest of the parish. This doesn't fix it. You still have a draw on the city resources that the parish would have. You cannot fix this cosmetically. It's fundamentally flawed. The only true solution to this is to give Lafayette back to Lafayette, give Lafayette its own leader and it's own council.
This is the East Baton Rouge model of consolidation, it's falling over there right now. It's not sustainable. Lafayette get's the short end of the stick no matter how you cut it and this chamber plan won't fix it.

Carol Ross concluded:

We tried doing total consolidation and that didn't pass. We tried doing de-consolidation and that never happened, so I think this is a good hybrid. I think this is a good step in the right direction - having five council districts that are strictly within the city of Lafayette. It's essentially the Hefner plan which we never got to vote on. It would solve the issue of the utility issue of the utility system being governed.
My conservative friends are worried that the more conservative members of the council would be out completely because the way the lines would be drawn it would all be city of Lafayette. My feeling is, let's take away the personalities and look at the structure. Does this improve the structure? I'd say yes. It's not perfect, there's no perfect plan in realistic terms.
The name of the game and the elephant in the closet is annexation. There should be measures of influence, and the measure of that should be contiguity. You can't just leapfrog around the parish and annex what you want. It should be someone contiguous to your municipality. Divide up those areas of influence and get the focus back to the city of Lafayette.

Warren Caudle, Carol Ross, Mike Stagg; KPEL 965

2. The Lafayette Parish School System is proposing a downsizing of teacher ranks to bring staffing more in-line with traditional teacher/student ratios.  This move would save $6 million next year but would eliminate 83 teachers and 7 assistant principal slots.  With some of the issues facing the School System at this time do you think this downsizing is a good move?

Mike commented:

I don't see what the problem is. If it's going to put them in line with the kind of ratios they want and have seen then I guess that's fine. I know they have a deficit this year, I hope it's not the reason they're doing it. I hope they have sound reasons for doing this.
The question becomes what is the best way to thin the bureaucracy? I don't know where the parish is on information technology, but you look at the business world and most organizations are a lot flatter than they used to be, but 83/7 seems like a heavy slant in favor of cutting on the front lines instead of administrative staffing, and that's where more savings could be achieved without affecting the classroom mission.

Carol responded:

It does not engender confidence in this school board when you read accounts of the last meeting when the board decided that they'd use general fund dollars to pay for pay increases.
Didn't we pass in 2002 a sales tax that we said would only go to teacher pay? And they didn't use that sales tax, they used the general fund. That's going to take away from facility maintenance. They've moved around $3 million away from maintenance. Here we go again. We're going to take money away from maintenance and ask the tax payers for more money for maintenance when they're transferring money away from funds earmarked for maintenance. I'm a little bit weary of everything this school board does.
Billy Guidry who is the financial officer urged against using the facility accounts as one time money. They've got a $65 million unified budget. You mean to tell me they couldn't find a better way to do this?

Tom surmised:

The citizens of Lafayette parish has made it clear that they're not going to pass any new taxes for any purpose including for school. We've got to deal with that reality.
The problem is I believe David Thibodeaux had moved for smaller school size, so they eliminated money for maintenance and transferred it to hire new teachers. The problem is the plants, the facilities are deplorable.
I went to Lafayette High recently and I was appalled. The campus looks like a ghetto. The money needs to be spent on fundamental maintenance.


Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think about today’s Wingin’ It Wednesday topics. Who got it right, who got it wrong, and who was way off? Let us know in the comment section.