SADOW: Bossier City Must Reject Broke Bossier School Board’s Dubious Deal

It looks as if one zombie was killed off, but another seems poised to start terrorizing taxpayers in Bossier City and Bossier Parish.

The City Council will pass budget ordinances this week, minus a contemplated $55,000 to hire a presumed specialist in civil service procedures working out of the city attorney’s office. At two points in time, the Council had on the agenda hiring an individual – the father of city Chief Administrative Officer Amanda Nottingham – but wisely pulled back. This expenditure never made any sense, as surely the intricacies of civil service law weren’t beyond City Attorney Charles Jacobs and his staff that would require intervention by a retired senior police official for a few months to sort out.

The excuse had been that former Police Chief Chris Estess – a veteran of nearly 35 years in the department – was too unknowledgeable about that area of policy and needed help. But with Estess shown the door and the request now dropped, are we to assume new chief Daniel Haugen – a two-decade veteran and husband of city Comptroller Molly Haugen – is up to speed on all that, hence no more need for an extra temporary hire?

But the budget does include $25,200 to go to the Bossier Parish School Board for law enforcement traffic control provided by the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office to direct around two schools, W.T. Lewis Elementary in the city’s north and Parkway High at its very southern edge. Already the city sends $100,000 annually to the Board for crossing guards at several schools.

The supposed necessity for this came when deadly shootings in other parts of the country occurred earlier this year, so the school board decided it would keep school resource officers in several schools that traditionally had directed nearby before- and after-school traffic, necessitating additional sheriff’s deputies hired for traffic detail. However, despite the fact that the Bossier Parish School District spent about $414 million last year, it couldn’t seem to come up with even $50,400 on its own – after initially asking for several times that – and instead billed it out in equal allotments to the parish and city.

(Or maybe it’s because the District is flat busted. It’s over three-quarters of a billion dollars in the hole, driven by nearly $1.25 billion in unfunded accrued pension and post-employment liabilities, which wasn’t helped by a combined 2020 and 2021 gaping operating deficit of almost $200 million, or a 35 percent increase in the negative balance minus capital assets and restricted funds since 2019. Combined fund balances and debt are about equal at $173 million and essentially offset. While these benefits aren’t due immediately, they represent a ticking time bomb that the Board must cover and not in the distant future. Keep in mind that nine incumbents ran unopposed for this fall’s election, one will be succeeded unopposed by the son of a police juror, one is an open seat that drew two candidates, and only one incumbent drew a challenger which is the same one who ran when the pair contested that seat when open last year.)

The hold-up-by-mail scheme – essentially the Board signaled to the Jury and Council that it wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent presumed traffic mayhem on and around its properties and dared them to call that bluff – worked with the Jury, where in July all of Republican Jurors Bob Brotherton (whose wife, Republican Billie Jo, serves on the Board), Philip Rodgers, John Ed Jorden, Julianna Parks, Chris Marsiglia, Tom Salzer, and Democrat Jimmy Cochran (whose son, independent  Craton, will become a Board member later this year) voting in favor. Interestingly, the most passionate opponent of approval, independent Jerome Darby who pointed out that the district received hundreds of millions in revenue and spent on things like a million-dollar new athletic field yet it had the audacity to send out the mash note, is the brother of independent Board member Samm Darby.

And his brother, no party City Councilor Jeff Darby, along with the rest of the Council not only have the item budgeted for next year, but also at the upcoming meeting will consider the necessary memorandum of understanding to execute the deal. Hopefully, he and/or other councilors will ask some vital questions that show the infirmity of the case to fork over to defeat that.

Beginning with the point Jerome Darby made: this is a Board responsibility to begin with, not that of the local governments who regulate traffic. Schools have the authority how to deploy the sheriff’s deputies, so if they choose not to send them to direct traffic and still wish to have that function performed, that’s on the schools and the School Board, and them alone. It’s not, as some jurors whined, a case of being forced to shell out additional taxpayer dollars because of another government’s action; it’s the other government’s responsibility due to its own decision-making that it can’t offload onto others, which in any event blurs the lines of accountability for citizens to evaluate.

And, has the world ended in the three months school has been in session? Have there been massive vehicle pileups or mass casualties around Lewis or Parkway with blood flowing in the streets? Has there even been any griping by families about anarchic vehicular movements wasting time? I don’t know whether the locations have gone without POST-certified law enforcement personnel taking charge of their streets twice a day, but there’s been no public outcry about this either way – traffic control or not leaving SROs on campus an extra couple of hours a day. Is this really an issue in the first place?

Finally, the assertion made in the proposed agreement that “The School Board can procure the services of traffic control officers at a more cost-effective rate than the City” is at best dubious and at worst indicts poor management of police resources. Presumably, this claim echoes that as the Board already contracts through the BPSO this route proves less costly than either the city going directly to the BPSO or using its own officers, which in the latter case would be true only if this requires work outside a normal shift, hence overtime base pay plus benefits.

However, is that really the case? We’re being told that a police department of around 200 that presumably works in three shifts 8,000 hours a week can’t arrange its patrols to squeeze out of all those hours 20 a week of personnel outside of schools without that not only costing extra but also in excess of handing $25,200 for a school year to another government? If that’s the case, why not have the Board hire off-duty Bossier City police officers rather than sheriff’s deputies, who should have better local knowledge?

This proposed action seems little more than forcing the city into taking the most convoluted and expensive action by disregarding without proper justification every other less-complicated and less-costly, including no-cost, option. The Council should reject the agreement and strike the appropriation.

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