Concordia Parish School Board getting $500K grant for safer schools

Published 7:00 am Sunday, June 11, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Concordia Parish schools have been awarded $500,000 from the Louisiana Department of Education Stronger Connections Grant program to make school buildings “a little bit safer,” announced Vidalia High School Principal Bernie Cooley on Thursday.

LDOE created the $21 million grant program to go toward limiting access points in schools to a single point of entry. School districts can use the funding for any safety measure to accomplish this goal. Access control, such as single-point entry or locked entry points, is considered a best practice for school safety, according to LDOE.

Funds for the Stronger Connections Grant program come from the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, which provides $1 billion in funding for school safety nationwide.

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The Stronger Connections Grant program provides funding to school systems on a competitive basis to support school safety efforts.

Cooley told school board members on Thursday that a huge part of Concordia Parish receiving the grant was the support of local law officials, including Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick, Vidalia Police Chief Joey Merrill and Ferriday Police Chief Sam King.

Cooley and other school representatives met with the law officials Tuesday to go over plans for the grant, which include adding cameras with two-way communication at all school entry points so that school gatekeepers, “will know exactly who is coming in the door,” Cooley said.

“Each school will have a single point of entry, physical security equipment to improve school safety, community stakeholder support and feedback on school safety evaluations for each school location,” he said. “It’s quite a bit that goes into this safety grant. Along with those components, we will utilize all the people in the community who are stakeholders and law enforcement in order to make those dreams come true for the safety of all of the schools.”

Additionally, funds can be used for those monitoring the cameras to be trained.

“The biggest thing is our secretaries or whoever is guarding that entrance may get to where they’re nonchalant on opening that door, so one of the things we’re looking at implementing is a lot of training in order to make them utilize that camera system and that entry button to allow people to come on campus,” Cooley said.

The deadline for school systems to apply for funding passed on April 3. Cooley said an announcement of Concordia Parish School Board receiving the funds was made Friday, June 3.

In other matters during Thursday’s meeting of the Concordia Parish School Board, CPSB recognized students with biliteracy and multilingual awards for students who are fluent in multiple languages.

Meanwhile, cleanup of the school board’s central office building is taking longer than expected.

While a special committee is working on a plan to relocate to a new central office, work is ongoing at the existing central office across from the Vidalia Municipal Complex on Carter Street, which the school district hasn’t been able to use since September because of mold in the building.

A bid for approximately $86,000 was approved to rip out the carpet and cut and replace drywall inside the building. Tom O’Neal, CPSB’s director of business affairs, said Thursday that a July completion date would be “a little aggressive.”

The school board also unanimously agreed Thursday to begin looking at bids for fresh paint for Vidalia High School and Monterey High School.

The school district is also considering accommodating Ecco Ride, the student transportation company with which the school board has just approved a $1.6 million annual contract, with parking lot improvements and new indoor restrooms where the company will be parking its fleet for the upcoming school year.