Once again, school board will consider closing Cloutierville

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

There’s likely to be a vote today, Thursday, on whether the school board will close Cloutierville Elementary/Jr. High School. Scheduled for a vote at the board meeting June 7, the issue was tabled until the meeting today. Nine school board members and Supt. Dale Skinner visited the school Monday and met with about 25 people from the area who hope the school will remain open. Board member Emile Metoyer, who represents that area, during a telephone interview Monday questioned whether closing the school will be a savings to the board.

Metoyer says that Skinner and the board have not looked at other areas for cuts, mainly staffing of school administrators, decreasing the number of central office personnel, cutting funding for athletics and decreasing the number of non-teaching positions such as secretaries, janitors and lunchroom personnel. “Look at everything, not just teachers,” he said. Metoyer believes that bussing students who live in the southern part of the parish to the city will be problematic considering the distance the buses must travel. He says buses that pick up students in the Gorum and Mora areas will arrive at the BOM branch in Cloutierville at 7:15 and must then travel to NCHS at 7:45 a.m. “They then have drop-offs at other schools,” Metoyer says. “Where will the saving be if they have to add three more bus routes?”

He also doesn’t believe that buses traveling from the parish line can travel the 32.8 miles to town in time for the start of school at 7:45 a.m. while making 18-20 stops. Metoyer says that if the board is considering closing Cloutierville because of the enrollment of 125, it should look at NSU Elementary Lab School that has an enrollment of 174. “I’ve researched it,” Metoyer said. Skinner said Tuesday that revised enrollment numbers show that Cloutierville would have about 125 students next year, rather than the 90 reported at the board meeting last week. Meytoyer said Skinner “gutted” the Cloutierville school in 2017-18 when he eliminated seven positions including first through fourth grade sections, librarian, computer lab and physical education positions. Seven positions remain unfilled for the 2018-19 school year.

In a letter to principals, assistant principals and teachers at the school dated June 5, Skinner said he recommended closing Cloutierville for the good of the parish. “The reason I am informing you is that if Cloutierville remains open, it will affect every school in the parish…If the board votes to keep Cloutierville open, I will have to balance the budget. The only way to do that is to lay off personnel. In my opinion, this would be a disaster for every school in Natchitoches and would prohibit banding the city schools from being successful.” Also a factor is the age of the school that was built in 1918. Skinner has released a two-page list of maintenance issues at the school that range from rusted gutters to inadequate gates and fencing that poses security problems.

Superintendent of Schools Dale Skinner

More serious issues include electrical distribution panels that are not National Electrical Code compliant; no covers on HVAC BAS relays that present fire hazard; sub panels and sub feed wiring to heat pumps need to be replaced; drinking fountains plugged into receptacles are not GFCI protected and not NEC compliant; toilets in bathrooms are missing tank lids; sinks are loose on the wall; one of two aerator blower units on the sewage treatment plant is out with the other needing to be replaced; one heat pump is improperly installed; compressor in dining area air conditioner is burned and has contaminated the refrigeration system and needs to be replaced; and most of air conditioning units are obsolete using Refrigerant 22 that will no longer be produced after 2020. There are several of those units that are over 15 years old and should be replaced.

Skinner said at the school board meeting last week that he believed closing the school will result in a saving of $1.4 million with the remaining teachers to be reassigned to schools in the city to address shortages there. That will enable teachers to have planning and professional development periods as required by State law. On Tuesday, Skinner said that the positions that were eliminated at Cloutierville last year were part of overall cuts when the board was trying to achieve a balanced budget. “We cut everywhere. Every school got cut,” he said.

As for transportation costs, Skinner said the possibility of adding additional routes to pick up the students in the Cloutierville area will be offset by the elimination of bus routes when the students on Fairgrounds Road, Pan Am and Town South return to city schools in the fall. “If we leave the 125 kids there, we will hurt the other 6,000,” Skinner said.