Ferriday group worried about schools

Published 9:37 am Tuesday, May 8, 2007

FERRIDAY — A group of citizens met Saturday to discuss concerns about the Ferriday school system.

The Tri-Parish Ministerial Alliance, along with the Concordia-Catahoula NAACP and Community Against Regression of Ethnicity, met at Mount Beulah Baptist Church in Ferriday to address concerns about academics in the Ferriday schools, the atmosphere in the schools, the concentration of funds in the school system and the termination of Ferriday Upper Elementary social worker Sharon Marie Chester.

Chester was hired in early March as a contract worker for Ferriday Upper Elementary through a Coordinated School Health Grant.

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According to paperwork provided by Chester, her contract was terminated April 4 for failing to perform certain tasks and failing to send all written and oral requests for supplies or services from outside services through the appropriate channels.

Chester maintains that her termination was political in nature and that it was partially an attempt of administration officials to muzzle her interactions with black community. Chester is white.

The allied groups said they feel the current school system leadership refuses to address the problems.

“With this superintendent (Kerry Laster) we have in place, she has no intention of addressing these issues,” Concordia-Catahoula NAACP representative Justin Conner said.

There are some good members on the school board, but things often get twisted politically, Conner said.

The group had a meeting with one of the school board members and invited Laster, but she didn’t come, Conner said. The group wanted to discuss Chester’s termination, but Laster declined attending because it would be illegal for her to talk about personnel matters, she said.

The schools in Ferriday have been rated “academically unacceptable” by the state for the last several years, Conner said.

“Teachers-wise, we have very good academics in our parish — we have some of the best — but they’re not in Ferriday,” he said.

The Ferriday principals handle the hiring of Ferriday teachers, Laster said.

The principals interview and make recommendations to the personnel coordinator, Laster said. The recommendation is then taken to the school board personnel committee.

“I try to go with what the principals want,” Laster said.

“Do we have enough certified teachers? No,” she said. There’s not a district anywhere that does.”

The allied groups also feel that Ferriday has not been funded in a manner comparable to other parish schools.

“It’s strange to me that when Ferriday schools are academically unacceptable you’re going to concentrate on Vidalia schools,” Conner said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”

Because of their failing status, Laster said Ferriday schools actually receive the most federal funding.

In addition to federal funding, the district spends its own budget on an annual list of priorities.

“The board sets the priorities,” Laster said. “Each school had a wish list (for project funding), and for Ferriday (High School) it was a new band room.”

When the band room project was completed, a leak led to the building getting a new roof and a covered walkway, Laster said.

The school also had to be rewired, Laster said.

“I graduated from there, and (the wiring) was the same as when I was there,” she said.

Conner said after Saturday’s meeting the allied groups decided to draft an open letter to Laster about their concerns.

The letter will be available to the public later this week, Conner said.

The group also plans to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., because they feel the issues are not getting enough attention locally, he said.