Board votes to close Cloutierville school

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

By a vote of 6-5, the Natchitoches Parish School Board voted to close Cloutierville Elementary/Jr. High during a special called meeting Thursday. Voting to close the school were Tommy Melder, Carroll Daniels, Rhonda Guidroz, Mike Hilton, Ralph Wilson and Eugean Garner. Voting to keep the school open were Emile Metoyer, Stephen Harris, Katrina Willis, Russ Danzy and Harry Graham. Danzy offered an amendment to the motion that received a unanimous vote. The amendment was to examine keeping the school open as a virtual school and learning center for Pre-K though fourth grade, the youngest population that will be bussed to schools in the city. There was some new information related to projected savings.

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The previous savings of $1.4 million as offered by Supt. Dale Skinner at a previous meeting would apply if the school was closed and none of the teachers were moved to other schools. Cloutierville board member, Emile Metoyer, said the savings had been revised to $519,000 since 12 of the 16 teachers will be reassigned to other schools. As he has done in previous meetings and interviews, Metoyer questions if there would be actual savings after factoring in transportation costs and length of time students would have to ride the buses. Metoyer said after the meeting, he had done the best job he could do to keep the school open but the votes were simply against him. Skinner reiterated his position that his concern was for the 6,000 students in parish schools as opposed to the approximately 100 that would remain at the school should it stay open.

Hilton, the board president, maintained order as several people from the Cloutierville area pleaded with the board to keep the school open. While board policy limits speakers to 3 minutes, Hilton let the clock run for 4 minutes for each speaker. Donna Masson, a former school board member from that area, said that should the Natchez students stay at the Cloutierville school as was previously proposed, the enrollment would grow to 222 students by her calculations. The board had decided to move the Natchez students from Provencal to Cloutierville earlier this year but then changed to keep them at Provencal. Masson said the Cloutierville school had a grade of C which was higher than the city schools where the students will be bussed. She said that while the school was 100 years old, the building was not that old since the original school had been in a wooden building. She said the building had been remodeled in the 1980s.

Masson asked Skinner to stop what she called harassing, bullying and stressing the teachers by telling them they could their school board members as he stated in a letter to the teachers. Skinner said he would not apologize for the letter and he had considered other options besides closing the school. He said that Masson and current board member, Metoyer, had never brought up a tax to improve the school and the residents in that area voted against a parish-wide sales tax. Julie Delphin, who lives in the Cloutierville, said to close the school would be egregious and unconscionable.

Freda Burns, a school bus driver, said the routes from the southern part of the parish into the city would be too long and the students who would ride close to two hours. She said closing the school would not save time nor money. About the only new opinion that had not been previously expressed was that of Ryan Dunn, who special needs child attends the school. He said moving to a new school would set his child back and Dunn would have a further distance to travel should the his son need him since he works in Pineville. He said there must be other options.

Stephen Harris said he would not vote to close any school. He also questioned whether there would be actual savings and was critical of Skinner for not getting him a list of salaries of people who work in the central office. Tommy Melder said the board had two bad choices and both would be a sacrifice. He said the best education for the students and safety issues were at stake.

Melder said the boar had spent hours trying to determine the best course and he believed that the conditions at the school were deplorable and could not be fixed by a tax. “The principal and teachers have done their very best. The children going there have been disadvantaged.”