The shepherd for Lafayette Parish's Catholic community urged a yes vote in the parish-wide April 29 sales tax election, calling the half-cent, 10-year initiative "a small sacrifice that will reap a great good, benefiting every citizen in Lafayette Parish."
Bishop Douglas Deshotel's declaration of support was made Wednesday before some 40 community leaders gathered in the shadow of some of the 31 temporary classrooms at Lafayette High School.
One Acadiana, which hosted the brief session, said those gathered in support represented some of the 12 organizations, five municipal governments, and almost 100 community leaders who've signed on in support of the effort.
Deshotel, whose diocese includes 14 Catholic schools at various levels in Lafayette Parish, said support for improvement of the local public schools does not conflict with diocesan support for Catholic schools. The two systems, he said, are not in competition.
"Any great and noble society is defined by how it cares for the children in that community," he said.
Richard Zuschlag, founder of Acadian Cos., said Lafayette companies find it difficult to recruit employees when schools aren't attractive to potential newcomers. He said the system has made improvements under Superintendent Donald Aguillard and the school board, but 420 temporary classrooms send warning signals to people considering moving here.
Zuschlag said new classrooms will provide improved learning and working atmospheres for students and teachers.
One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi said tax opponents have tried to "divide this community" by falsely suggesting the schools are "awash in money" with ample classroom space. In truth, he said, real dollar value for the schools has shrunk over the past decade when adjusted for inflation.
Michael Lunceford, a St. Martin Parish Republican leader with strong ties to Lafayette, said he's not convinced tax proponents are providing voters with the right information. He said he shops and dines in Lafayette and he was not satisfied when he asked proponents to make their case.
Lunceford said he's reviewed 10 years of school system reports and believes by the system's own numbers, there is ample classroom space if the system would rezone effectively.
Lunceford said the issue is raising a lot of community passion, although he said he's unsure how that passion will reveal itself in votes.
Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters Charlene Meaux-Menard said this week's early voting for the April 29 election is outpacing early voting for the March 25 election.
"It's not busy like November or December, but it's a little better," she said. She said voting officials are forecasting a 17 percent turnout; turnout was closer to 10 percent for the March 25 election.
Early vote totals were 487 Saturday, 309 Monday, 349 Tuesday and 209 by midday Wednesday.
Lafayette voters can continue to vote early through Saturday at 1010 Lafayette St. Voting hours are 8:30 am. to 6 p.m.