By Carolyn Roy
Natchitoches Magnet School will move to the campus of East Natchitoches, Supt. of Schools Dale Skinner said at the board meeting Wednesday. The move is one of several changes to the plan to band schools according to grade levels. The board will vote on the proposed changes during a special called meeting March 13 at 5 p.m. Skinner and his curriculum team announced the realignment plans last month and they were unanimously approved by the board. Since this is a major change, the board must approve the new plan.
“After community input, with the assistance of teachers and parents, we have made some new decisions,” Skinner said. “In order to have schools with lower, more manageable numbers, we feel as if it would be in the best interest of our students to make the following moves:”
Weaver: P-K, K, 1 (approximately 600 students)
Parks: 2, 3, 4 (approximately 586 students)
L.P. Vaughn: 5-6 (approximately 395 students) NJH: 7 (197), 8 (206) (approximately 403 students)
East: Natchitoches Magnet (approximately 400 students, 16 classrooms)
Infant and toddler classes will remain at L.P. Vaughn.
Principals will get active-shooter training March 13 at the central office, Skinner told the school board at its committee meeting Tuesday. Jesse Taitano, an assistant chief and training officer for the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office, will conduct the training for principals who will then train their staffs. Board member Ralph Wilson suggested that Skinner ask NSU Police Chief Craig Vercher to participate since there are two schools on the NSU campus. He commended Skinner for scheduling the training since many other parishes have not done so.
At the request of board member Eugean Garner, Skinner and Supervisor of Finance Foshee were authorized to solicit bids for improvements in District 7 schools in Fairview, Goldonna and Lakeview. “Let’s get the ball rolling. There has been no dirt turned,” Garner said. Architects said they planned to make improvements to the football, baseball and softball fields at the same time but Skinner said the football field needed to be ready by fall. He agreed with Garner that work should begin as soon as possible. Voters in District 7 approved a bond issue to pay for the improvements.
The board received five requests for proposals from bus transportation companies. Representatives from DS Lines and Ecco Ride gave presentations Tuesday. Also submitting proposals were Durham Transportation Co., First Student and Student Transportation Specialists. The board will choose a company by April 12. Ecco representatives said the company would use new buses secured from Ross Buss and Equipment Sales in Alexandria. They would have radios, digital cameras, GPS systems and be air-conditioned. “You should be able to set your clock by the school bus,” one representative told the board. DS Bus Lines is based in Shining Mission, Kan., and Natchitoches, if chosen, would be its first client in Louisiana. The representative said the company motto is “A Successful Team Beats with One Heart.” The fleet buses would be no older than five years old. Both companies offer benefits to their drivers.
At the meeting Wednesday, board member Emile Metoyer asked Foshee to determine if the board returning to hiring drivers would be cost effective. The board moved away from hiring its own drivers in 2009 when it chose to privatize the transportation system. Skinner said it would be a huge task for the board to undertake hiring 90 bus drivers. Foshee said that the systems revenue remains greater than expenses at this time in the general fund, food service and Title 1 budget.
On another positive note, Foshee said the board could receive as much as $550,000 for a timber sale on Posey Road property. There will be a report on the 2017 audit at the April meeting. Director of Personnel Linda Page, who had just returned from a recruiting trip to Arkansas when she spoke to the board at the committee meeting Tuesday, asked the board to endorse a resolution from the La. State Association of School Personnel Administrators to form a task force to address the shortage of certified teachers. Page said school systems are asking for input from the public on ways to recruit teachers. The board approved the resolution Thursday.
Coordinator and Intervention Specialist for Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Jennifer Ingram, gave the board a report on counseling services by Cenla Rehabilitation Service of Alexandria. The company provides on-site counseling for students. From Sept. 11 until March 2, the counselors had 546 short-term visits, 174 long-term visits and 10 interventions. Twelve counselors are working in the program. The services are billed through Medicaid at no cost to the school board. Skinner said that 160 students initially signed up for dental appointments at the Outpatient Medical Center. He expects that number to increase. Wilson asked the board to consider hiring a part-time employee to help update the system’s website. There are items from 2014 still posted.
On Wednesday, the board authorized Skinner and Page to advertise for the position. The board approved having the School Empowerment Network on the Weaver campus next school year. A $370,000 grant will be used to work with teachers. Nineteen school districts in the state received the competitive grants. The board unanimously approved a payment of $18,000 to Skinner. His contract includes a $500 monthly allowance for travel that he has not been receiving. The $18,000 represents $500 a month for 36 months.