PAISD town hall meeting brings debate on operations tax

Published 11:44 am Friday, August 18, 2017

The second town hall meeting regarding PAISD’s upcoming tax ratification election — in which residents will vote on whether or not to raise the district’s maintenance and operations tax rate — included accusations toward Hispanic children and their parents.

Port Arthur resident John R. Barnett, Jr. lectured superintendent Mark Porterie and assistant superintendent for business and finance Phyllis Geans about the community’s Hispanic population during their presentation to the audience at Iglesia Apostolic Church in Port Arthur.

Barnett said he found the district’s bilingual program for Hispanics to be “discriminatory” because it allowed them to learn English at a slower rate, if at all.

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According to him, the Hispanic population lagged behind in English learning compared to other minorities in the city because they “don’t do anything.”

Barnett credited the Vietnamese community for disciplining their youth because “there would be hell to pay if the (children) don’t learn English.”

He cited Hispanic parents as the ones to blame because they are not eager to learn and teach their children. In addition, he said it was Hispanics’ faults for going back to Mexico and picking fruit during school holidays that prevented them from really learning the English language.

Porterie responded that Hispanic students who come to PAISD from pre-K through the elementary grades adjust “very well” to learning English through the district’s bilingual program; and, in fact, that some of those same students have gone on to graduate at the top of their class.

However, he did admit that when non-English-speaking students age 13 and older enter the school district, those students have a harder time learning the language.

Barnett asked Porterie why immigration services were not called on Hispanics “to take them back where they came from” for the students who caused trouble or who brought the overall district scores down as a result of their inability to comprehend English well.

“When Christmas time comes, they just up and disappear,” Barnett said. “If you go back, don’t come back.”

When he asked Porterie why the district should teach them at all, Porterie said state law mandated free education for all children.

This is the law in all states because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that all public schools in the nation must educate every child from K-12.

Barnett said he was adamantly against the tax ratification even though he was not affected by it by virtue of being over 65 — and thus part of a group of taxpayers whose tax rate is essentially frozen.

Barnette also spoke in opposition to provisions as school buses and free lunches for children because he claimed they were a financial burden on taxpayers and because he was not offered them when he attended PAISD as a student.

“I had to ride a bike or find my own way to school,” Barnett said.

Porterie answered that school buses are offered to students free of charge because many parents don’t have the transportation to bring their child to school.

“If we don’t have transportation, a great percentage of our students won’t get to school in the first place,” Porterie said.

Barnett commented that he didn’t get any free lunches when he went to school and that it was another unnecessary burden on taxpayers.

Geans responded that the majority of funding for free and reduced student lunches comes from the USDA and a grant specifically geared toward providing food for students.

Barnett condemned the use of air conditioning in PAISD schools as another frivolous expenditure, especially since he and his contemporaries did not have air conditioning when they attended school.

“I can’t sympathize with the conditions in school nowadays knowing where I came from,” Barnett said.

Porterie responded that the school district monitors their AC use and temperatures very closely in order to save as much money as possible. Geans added that the district had partnered with Entergy Texas Solutions Program in order to maximize its energy savings.

Barnett pointedly asked Porterie whose responsibility it was to make sure students went to school — the parents or the schools.

“When a student comes to us, we have to look at that student as a child who needs to be taught,” Porterie said. “And whether the parent cares or not, we want to mold that child into believing that you can do better.”

Porterie told Barnett that he shouldn’t be upset about what’s happening today by comparing it to what happened in the past.

Barnett later responded, “We can’t have people who care pay for people who don’t care.”

“Do we punish the children because of their parents?” Porterie asked.

Porterie listed services that the schools provide such as buses, lunches and musical instruments all as ways in which the district helps students succeed.

He cited scholarships that PAISD offers its graduates as opportunities for them to grow and to afford higher education.

Russel Bus, another attendee, rebutted much of what Barnett had said.

“Get out there, work there and be a community,” Bus said. “We’re a city here.”