Sen. Francis Thompson wants the Legislature to rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts after a former colleague who by all accounts led the move to create the school which is located in Natchitoches.
SB1 cleared the Senate Education Committee last Thursday and will likely come up for debate by the full Senate this week. Senate Education Committee chair Blade Morrish of Jennings sits as a member of the LSMSA board of directors by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee.
Thompson, in a phone interview while traveling from northeast Louisiana to the Capitol on Monday, describes his bill as "an attempt to give credit where credit is due."
Jimmy D. Long Sr., served in the state House of Representatives for 32 years. For 16 of those years, Long served as chairman of the House Education Committee. Thompson says that while Long was serving as a member of the Southern Regional Education Board he heard a presentation about the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. "He saw that the North Carolina school had paid great dividends for that state and thought something similar could be done in our state," Thompson says.
"Education was Jimmy's main interest throughout his life until that car wreck ended his life," Thompson says. Long died in an auto accident in Natchitoches in 2016.
Long was a graduate of what is now Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. After Long was defeated in his 2003 bid for re-election, Gov. Mike Foster named Long to the University of Louisiana Board. Long served as board chairman during his tenure.
Thompson, who served 33 years in the House and the past 10 years in the Senate, says Long saw the creation of what became the LSMSA as an opportunity to improve educational opportunity in the state and to help his alma mater.
"Things were not going well for the university in the early '80s," Thompson says. "There was talk of downsizing it, maybe turning it into a community college. But, Jimmy saw this school as a means to bolster the university as well."
Long passed legislation authorizing a study of the feasibility of creating a high school that would attract an outstanding faculty to teach some of the state's best and brightest students. Thompson says he used that study as the basis to pursue his idea.
The problem, of course, was money.
"He had a plan but he didn't have any money," Thompson says of Long. "He went to Gov. Dave Treen and asked and begged for the money and he got it. The rest is history."
"Others definitely helped bring the school into being, but Jimmy was undoubtedly the father of it," Thompson adds.
According to the LSMSA website, the school's rated as having the best high school faculty in the country.
So, Thompson's bill would make the official name of the school the Jimmy D. Long Sr. Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. The LSMSA would become the JDLSLSMSA. Inclusion of the "Sr." suffix is important because state law prohibits naming buildings after living people. The late representative Long's son Jimmy D. Long Jr., is alive and well and practicing law in Natchitoches.
Thompson acknowledges that some concern has been expressed by some alumni about the lengthening name of the school, but he downplays those concerns noting "they've changed the name more than my bill would."
"Their logo art work called it 'Louisiana School' in big letters then have the 'Math, Science and the Arts' part in smaller letters," Thompson says. "They wouldn't have to actually add Jimmy's name to any of that."
Morrish says he does not anticipate any problems for the bill on the Senate side but says there might be some in the House.
"There are a number of members of the Senate who served with Jimmy Long in the House, including myself," Morrish tells The Independent. "There may be as many as ten of us and the rest of us have served with his brother, Gerald. But, in House, there aren't any members who served with him. So, if there's any trouble for the bill I think it would come from there."
Thompson's bill is scheduled for floor debate in the Senate as early as today.