May 31, 2017 12:12 AM

How best to honor the late Jimmy Long has turned into a family feud that played out in House Education on Wednesday

Members of the LSMSA Class of 2017

The dispute over how best to honor the memory of the late Jimmy D. Long Sr. consumed a couple of hours of the House Education Committee's time on Wednesday, as his long-time friend and his brother pushed their plan to rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts after him.
Rep. Francis Thompson
Photo by Robin May

Sen. Francis Thompson's SB1 would name the school after Long, who died in an automobile accident in August of last year. Long is considered one of the founding fathers of the school, which recruits the state's top high school students to three years of rigorous academic work at LSMSA's Natchitoches campus.

Thompson and Sen. Gerald Long — Jimmy Long's brother — brought the bill to the House Education Committee on Wednesday as statewide opposition to the bill led by the LSMSA Alumni Association grew. Thompson recounted Long's push to develop the school after hearing of a similar school in North Carolina at a meeting of the Southern Regional Education Board in 1980.

Thompson told the committee that others helped Long — like Gov. Dave Treen, Sen. Don Kelly and Dr. Robert Alost. "All of them followed Jimmy Long's lead," Thompson told the committee. "No one — not anyone — made the level of contribution of Jimmy Long."

Jamie Smith, head of the alumni association, told the committee that the school's governing board had decided to honor Long by naming their new dormitory after the late representative.

Jamie Smith
Photo by Robin May

"This was discussed at the December board meeting," Smith told the committee. "Sen. Blade Morrish, who is a member of the board, said legislation would been needed to name the building after Long. Sen. Gerald Long, who was at the meeting, said he knew who could handle the bill." Smith said that turned out to be Thompson.

SB1, though, as written by Thompson renamed the school after Jimmy Long, not the dorm.

"I feel we were bamboozled," Smith said.

Smith said the wishes of the school's alumni were being overlooked "by the emotion of two men who are grieving their loss."

Bill New of Berwick is the president of the LSMSA Foundation. He told the committee that he was appearing as a parent of four LSMSA graduates. Few told the committee that he and his wife considered moving to Texas when they started growing a family because of their concerns about access to quality education in Louisiana.

"When we found out about the LSMSA, it allowed us to stay here," New said. New said his sons take higher level math at LSMSA than he did in college.
Bill New
Photo by Robin May

Rep. Chris Broadwater of Hammond pointed out that the school gets General Fund revenue from the state as well as MFP support. He added that the state is being asked to include $26 million in the Capital Outlay bill to fund the dormitory that the school proposes to name after Long.

Thompson said he wanted to amend his bill so that it would not affect the school's branding. "It would still be the Louisiana School," Thompson said. The bill was amended to allow it to continue to be called the Louisiana School in branding.

Rep. Polly Thomas of Jefferson Parish said that she has received more calls and emails over this issue than any other bill during this session.

Thomas asked New what would constitute a win-win solution.

"I would say defer the bill now and direct us to come together with a consensus solution at the next session," New responded.

New said there are 12 to 14 similar schools in the country. In each case, the schools bear the state's name.

The committee heard a parade of alumni and family members who oppose the name change.

Thompson closed on his bill after nearly two hours of opposition to the name change.

"To think that this might need to be put off is poppycock," Thompson said. "For him to say they got bamboozled is ridiculous. I want to make it clear for everybody — nothing in this bill to honor Jimmy Long tarnishes this school's reputation."

"Yes, it might pick up three, four more letters, but that won't change on thing in a negative sense," Thompson told the committee.

Sen. Gerald Long
Photo by Robin May

Sen. Gerald Long said he believed naming the school after his brother is the right thing to do. "Vote this out and let the entire House hear the pros and cons on this," he told the committee.

The motion to rename the school passed the House Education Committee by a 5-2 margin. It now goes to the full House for debate. It must go back to the Senate for concurrence due to the branding amendment passed by the committee early in today's discussion.


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