Parish school board ponders raises, opposes state ESA plan

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

VIDALIA, La. — Can Concordia Parish School District afford to give support personnel and teachers raises next year? What about renovate the Ferriday High School building?

These questions were pondered during a lengthy budget discussion during a special school board meeting on Thursday.

The budget questions took up most of the hour-long meeting, where only one other action was taken. The board voted on a resolution opposing proposed Louisiana legislation that is currently advancing to establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for students to use public tax dollars to go to the private school of their choice.

Email newsletter signup

The Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise bill, also called House Bill 745 or LA GATOR, passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives last week.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, who helped author the bill, said, “This program will allow the money to truly follow the child and empower the parents to be able to choose the education that is best for their child. I don’t believe this bill will shut down our public schools and nor is that my desire at all. I don’t believe there has been a single school closure in a state that has adopted an ESA program.”

Concordia Parish School Board joins about seven other public school systems across the state that feel differently and urge Louisiana senators to vote “no.”

The resolution passed by a vote of 8-0. Board member Matt Taunton was absent on Thursday.

Keeping the possibility of legislative changes that would impact public school funds in mind, Superintendent Toyua Bachus discussed the possibility of raises with school board members and whether it would be feasible to do so for support personnel or all staffers and, if so, by how much.

“I wouldn’t deserve this position if I didn’t think about the future,” she said.

Giving support personnel only a 5% increase, including fringe benefits, would cost the district an additional $3,223,653, Bachus said.

“As we start building a budget, we need to know what to build it around,” she said. “I want to start with our people and their compensation. They are really hard to obtain because their pay is so low.”

Early numbers show that in Concordia Parish, student enrollment —on which the state bases its calculation for public school funding — has changed very little from the last school year and may be “up by a few,” Bachus said.

“We have not had a mass exodus in the past few years,” she said. “About five or six years ago yes, but not since. It’s not something that we’re seeing all the time in our district.”

The budget has been inflated some by one-time grants that can only be used for certain purposes, Bachus said.

Of $14,302,883 allocated to Concordia Parish in Phase III of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, Bachus said $632,896 remains in the ESSER III fund that must be obligated by Sept. 30 and spent no later than 18 months after the deadline.

Additionally, the school district has a “Stronger Connection” Grant of $518,355 that must be expended within the next school year on school safety and single point-of-entry upgrades such as fencing, replacing doors and locks, an ID card buzz-in system, security cameras and walkie talkies.

The grant used to fund the Freshman Academy program at Ferriday High School is expiring, Bachus said, adding she recommends the school board find another avenue to keep the program going.

“Every metric that you can measure on it shows improvement,” she said of the program, including state test results, student attendance and the number of credits students earn.

She challenged the school board to start prioritizing a list of the district’s biggest needs such as ADA compliance updates, roof repairs and other maintenance needs.