School board approves tax millage, other projects

Published 8:40 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — A busy meeting of the Concordia Parish School Board Thursday evening included discussions of everything from fresh paint to new playground equipment as the district prepares for a new school year.

First, the school board adopted its annual ad valorem tax levy during its Thursday meeting at Vidalia City Hall. The levy is the same as the 2022-2023 school year, said CPSB Director of Business Affairs Tom O’Neal.

The school board levies three tax millages. The constitutional millage is 2.78 mills, general operations is 24.49 mills and additional operations and maintenance is 12.73 mills which all together bring in approximately $6.1 million each year, O’Neal said.

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When the school board began Thursday’s meeting with a public hearing about the millage rates, no comments were made by the audience.

Special recognitions

Superintendent Toyua Bachus then recognized an eighth-grader from Vidalia Junior High School, Marla Hernandez, who has accumulated 12 college credits prior to starting high school this fall.

“That has never happened before in Concordia Parish,” Bachus said.

Hernandez is a Spanish-speaking student with English as her second language, who has done phenomenal work under the tutelage of ESL teacher Morgan Brown Cerniglia, Bachus said.

Hernandez voluntarily worked summers and during school breaks to accumulate the credits after telling her teachers, “I want to do more,” Bachus said.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, school board president Fred Butcher recognized two Ferriday High School graduating seniors who each earned $1,000 scholarships, Anashia Hawkins and Ahnesti Brown.

Project updates

The school board further discussed ESSER grant projects throughout the parish, which include replacing windows and HVAC units at each school in the district.

Project supervisor Marco Gonzalez with Volkert Inc said with school districts across the country doing the same type of work, it takes months just for materials to arrive. School officials discussed how they would work around the student’s classroom time during the next school year when the materials are expected to come.

Football fields

Engineers with Bryant Hammett & Associates LLC provided the school board with an update on the resurfacing and drainage projects for the Ferriday and Vidalia football fields. The construction cost for resodding both fields is expected to be around $780,000.

The likelihood of having both fields done before football season starts is ambitious but not impossible, they said. The school board is instead considering having one field worked on at a time so that they would have the option to play home games on the other field if they aren’t finished before the season starts.

Vidalia anticipates playing the first home game the last weekend in August while Ferriday isn’t scheduled for a home game until mid-September. It was briefly discussed that they hold off on working on the fields until the season ends. However, board member Derrick Carson said it’s urgent that at least one of the fields be finished before the season.

“One of our fields is not safe (to play on),” Carson said. “It’s the school board’s responsibility to protect the children and it is not safe.”

Student transportation 

The school board also approved a new student transportation contract with Eco Ride, a school bus company whose proposal won the school board’s favor in a 6-to-1 vote over two other companies during an April 20 meeting. School Board member Wayne Wilson was the lone person to vote “nay,” saying that he was concerned about whether each company had bid on the same number of buses to be used.

Of the three proposals submitted by Durham, Jones Student Transportation, and Ecco Ride, Ecco Ride’s was the most expensive of the three at a rate of $357.67 per route. The total contract cost is $1,673,880.86 annually.

The school board’s current contract with Durham School Services ends July 31. Durham responded to the school board’s Request for Proposals with a new contract proposal with a rate of $299.95 per bus route. The total contract cost for one year would be $1,403,766.

The last RFP from Jones Student Transportation offered a rate of $285 per route and a total cost of $1,487,700 annually.

O’Neal explained that the school board is not bound to the least expensive contract.

Each of the RFPs had been evaluated on a five-point scale that includes cost, the longevity of the company, referrals and recommendations, overall services being offered, the equipment proposed and the wait time for receiving new equipment if the board requests it.

The school board had concerns about the age of the buses and a stipulation of the RFP called for brand-new buses to be available at the beginning of the contract period.

The current provider indicated that it could not provide new buses until the end of the first year of the contract period, O’Neal said.

During Thursday’s meeting, the school board also discussed what to do with older buses taking up space in the bus barn.

“It looks like a bus graveyard out there,” Butcher said.

School board member Matt Taunton, who is also the battalion chief for Vidalia Fire Department, said the fire department would take two of the buses, working or not, off of the school board’s hands if the school board would be willing to donate them for fire training purposes. The board unanimously agreed.

Playground equipment

Carson also recommended new playground equipment be purchased for several schools, including Vidalia and Ferriday lower and upper elementary schools and Monterey High School.

“Our children are in dire need of having adequate playground equipment,” he said. “Several of our schools don’t have any playground equipment or lack adequate equipment. … Eventually we’re going to have to do this anyway. It’s better to do it sooner rather than later.”

Bachus suggested only equipment that would be eligible to purchase with Inclusive Playground Equipment grants.

The cost of the suggested equipment ranges from $20,000 to $41,000 per set. Bachus said she is considering one set for Vidalia Lower, one for Vidalia Upper, two smaller sets for Ferriday Lower with the same price as one larger one, and one for Monterey High School.

“Every elementary principal will have to do the Inclusive Playground grant, whether they get it or not,” she said. “They will make a collective effort to receive that grant which may cover additional play equipment.”

School staff recommendations

The school board voted unanimously in favor of Bachus’s proposal to school officials to hire school nurses and behavior intervention specialists.

The total cost for the suggested three behavior interventionists, one additional nurse and three LPNs and hiring a part-time agriculture science teacher as a full-time teacher and custodian and supplying teachers working after hours with $8,000 General Co-Op stipends is $377,249.

Bachus suggested several avenues of covering the cost increases, including reducing staff and applying for other grants. She also pointed out where costs were cut by over $665,000 during her administration that could be used to cover the salaries.

“The funding sources are higher than the request,” she said.

O’Neal challenged the numbers.

“There’s no doubt that we can fund the first year but beyond that, I do not like to obligate our indirect costs specifically in this program. I consider those as freebies if you will,” he said. However, Bachus made a passionate appeal to keep the positions.

“I will continue to bring unique grants to our district and continue to build our indirect costs,” Bachus said. “… In order to be successful and give our kids everything they need, we have to look past the dollar. But I know the dollar is important and that is the only reason I put the dollar up here. Behavior interventionists are needed … because it’s time we stop thinking that the only way to handle children is to put them out of school. School nurses are needed.”