Parish school board rejects proposal for new central office

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

VIDALIA, La. — “Unprofessional” and “embarrassing” were words one school board member used to describe her colleagues’ lack of action to either lease or purchase a new central office building after nearly two years of employees and the superintendent being displaced.

During a special called meeting of the Concordia Parish School Board on Thursday, Superintendent Toyua Bachus presented two options to lease the former Southern Designs building for the school board to consider.

Both options were more costly than a previous lease that the board approved but for additional space.

Email newsletter signup

One option includes leasing 10 office spaces in the building with an additional 500 square feet of warehouse storage space for $4,000 a month plus one-third of property taxes and insurance. The second option is to lease the entire property for $15,000 monthly and pay all property taxes and insurance. Also, should the board choose to purchase the property within 12 months, the entire contribution would go towards the $1.8 million purchase price.

However, by a vote of 4 to 1 the school board rejected both options.

In April, the board approved a lease of the 10 office spaces for six months for $3,600 per month contingent upon the building’s owner Tance Hughes agreeing to allow a one-year extension of the lease. Bachus said the six-month lease was not feasible because the school board would have to equip the building with a fiber hookup to its internet provider. The previous lease also included language that said if the school board failed to submit a “written termination” of the lease after six months, it would automatically be tied to another 36 months.

Board members Dorothy Parker, Derrick Carson, Wayne Wilson and Matt Taunton were all absent during Thursday’s meeting.

Fred Butcher made the motion Thursday not to accept either of the new lease proposals and the motion was seconded by Vanessa Houck. Then Butcher, Houck, Fred Marsalis Sr. and Angela Hayes voted in favor of the motion while School Board President Lisette Foreman had the only nay vote.

“She (Bachus) didn’t sign up for this and I just think that it is extremely unprofessional,” Foreman said of the board members’ refusal to approve the proposals. “I know it’s $4,000 a month. We did approve $3,600 a month for six months. Now we’re asking for $4,000 a month for 12 months with a few additional costs but with more than twice as much space than what she was originally quoted. And I just think as a board, we owe that to our central office.”

In September 2022, the school board’s central office employees had to move out of the existing central office building on Carter Street because of a mold issue.

That building is being leased by the school board from Joby Weeks of Vidalia for $2,500 a month. The lease expires in August 2026, but states the school board is responsible for maintaining the building and that it must be restored to the condition it was in when the school board moved in — which was over 23 years ago. After $85,000 worth of mold removal measures, the building lacks carpet and its walls have been halfway gutted.

Weeks is willing to sell the property to the school board in that condition for $1.68 million.

Foreman said they district could purchase the former Southern Designs building — move-in-ready apart from internet hookup — for just $120,000 more.

“Our landowner thinks that we owe him approximately $700,000 to put (the existing central office) back to where he thinks it should be for us to terminate our lease,” she said. “Now with the Southern Designs building, we can purchase it and it be ours for $1.8 million. … If we purchase the Southern Designs property and tell them that we’re going to purchase it within the next 12 months, everything that we’ve paid goes towards our purchase price and it’s ours.”

Foreman added she does not think keeping the current central office building is an option.

“I do not see where our current office should even be considered,” she said. “I do not see where $700,000 is a reasonable amount to get out from under (our lease). I do not see where it’s worth $1.68 million. It’s not very big.”

Meanwhile, Bachus said she doesn’t have an office with doors to have confidential conversations with personnel, nor does the school district have meeting space for committees or board meetings. Since September 2022, the district has been borrowing the Vidalia Town Hall for board meetings and utilizing the parish media center on John Dale Drive, which doesn’t have the space for students and their families to attend regular board meetings.

Other board members’ main objection to the proposals is that it doesn’t give the complete cost with taxes and insurance.

“I just don’t think it’s a good proposal,” Butcher said.

In other matters Thursday, the board tabled considering revisions to salary schedules, job descriptions and other documents as a result of Act 311, regarding additional compensation for teachers who are given additional duties beyond their contract scope, which was signed into law earlier this month.

Though the law states that a salary schedule must be approved by a June 30 deadline, school officials said other school districts are holding off until July “to make a sound decision” about teachers’ pay for additional duties, Bachus said.

The school board also voted to amend the uniform policy so that skirts and shorts need to be no shorter than 3 inches above the knee. The previous policy required skirts and shorts to be knee length, which presented issues with the consistency and enforcement of the policy as students grew taller during the course of a school year.

No additional actions were taken during Thursday’s meeting.