School Board votes on supplements; Coaching decision creates debate


By Carolyn Roy

The school board covered a range of topics at its committee meeting Tuesday from salary supplements to be paid in January to criticism over the new football coach at Natchitoches Central. Supervisor of Finance Steven Solomon said that a few years ago, the State began awarding school districts salary supplements of $583 for each certified employee. In addition, the board decided to give salary supplements of $250 to non-certified employees. The practice has continued for several years and has been built into the budget. If the practice continues, the board will give a total of $408,000 to its employees in mid-January. That includes $338,000 for the 453 certified teachers and $71,000 for 221 non-certified employees. The supplements cost $450,000 last year but the total is lower this year because there are fewer full-time employees due to budget reductions. During its meeting Thursday, the board will vote on whether to give the supplements.

During his report, Supt. Dale Skinner said that Natchitoches Central Principal Bill Gordy has received considerable criticism, especially on social media, for his selection of Byron Keller as head football coach since he had a 1-19 record at Lakeview. Skinner said there are “way too many problems” in the football program and Keller will do three things. The first is to be a good role model; the second is to maintain discipline; and the third is to build the program. Skinner referred to Keller and his wife as good teachers. He said Keller will attend the State playoffs at the Superdome to look for assistant coaches.

Director of Special Education Toni Bennett spoke to the board about her recommendation to put video and audio surveillance in classes that have students with moderate and significant disabilities. While those students were once at one school, they now attend just about every school in the parish. Bennett touted the proposal as a safety factor that can provide insight into problems with students and provide assistance for teachers. Bennett has not determined the cost of the equipment since she has been developing a policy. The board must advertise for bids for the equipment, a process she can start once the board gives its approval. She recommended starting as soon as possible. The proposed policy has been reviewed by board attorneys and deemed legal. Board member Emile Metoyer believes the proposal is a good one since it will enable parents, as well as teachers, to determine what is happening with the students.

Board president Ralph Wilson termed it a win-win. In other business, Skinner proposed raising long-term substitute pay from $50-$65 per day to take those employees to minimum wage. Director of Personnel Linda Page said it would involve a maximum of four employees. Skinner introduced Richard Foshee, a Natchitoches resident, who is the new supervisor of finance. He replaces Steven Solomon who will take a job in private business. Foshee has worked the past 22 and one-half years for CenturyLink. He was born and raised in Natchitoches. He has a bachelor’s degree and both an MBA and master’s degree in science from the University of Louisiana in Monroe. “I look forward to working with Mr. Skinner and the board members,” Foshee said. “I’m going to do my very best for the children.” The only hint of controversy came near the end of the meeting when discussion began on whether to put a bond issue proposition on the ballot in April or in October of 2018. Having failed twice this year, the bond issue is to finance major renovations and maintenance in City schools.

Those improvements focus on security upgrades such as lighting and fencing; maintenance issues such as new carpeting and flooring; improvements to athletic facilities such as bathroom upgrades for female athletes; and HVAC upgrades or replacements. Board members Tommy Melder and Rhonda Guidroz advocate calling a special election in April, a move that Metoyer said could cost as much as $40,000 if it is the only item on the ballot. He says waiting until October would cost considerably less, perhaps between $2,500 and $5,000. Solomon said the Secretary of State could give no exact cost of either date at this time. Guidroz talked with the architect who said costs of materials and labor could increase as much as 5 percent, or $1 million, should the board wait until October. Metoyer is critical of paying so much more for a single proposition election since the board recently completed reducing the budget to avoid a deficit. “You’re going to spend money either way,” Metoyer said. “Some people want to spend the money no matter what. You say it won’t cost more but someone will pay more. You can find excuses when you want to spend the money,” he told Melder and Guidroz. “Pay now or pay more later,” Guidroz said.

There will be a special called meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. at the school board office to decide the election date.