Bond market favorable for school board

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The Natchitoches Parish School Board named Debra Besant the child nutrition district manager at the meeting Thursday. Besant began work Friday after working in the Head Start program for 22 years. She has a bachelor of science degree in business administration and master’s degree in organizational management from Northwestern State. She will manage between 50 and 60 employees.

By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The bond market is looking really good for the Natchitoches Parish School Board.

Cane River Waterway meetings

At the committee meeting Tuesday, Toby Cortez told school board members they can expect to get an interest rate of less than 4 percent for 20 years on the $19.7 million in bonds for School District 9. Voters passed the bond issue for repairs and maintenance to schools in the city.

Cortez is an underwriter with Stifl Financial Corp., the company that will sell the bonds.

Cortez said his firm sold over $8 billion in bonds last year and averaged 15 bond sales per week.

Jerry Orsborn, a bond attorney with Foley and Judell, was at the board meeting Thursday and said the money from the bond sale should available in late October or early November. The bond sale prospectus is distributed electronically across the United States to get the best offer.

Orsborn told the board that Standard & Poors, an independent credit rating agency, now had more concerns about operations of entities wanting to borrow the money, such as the school board. The concern has been brought about by Puerto Rico moving toward bankruptcy with $73 billion in debt. Osborne said a big consideration for a favorable rating is the balance in the general fund.

Ecco Ride Transportation Director Jason Edwards talked about the start of school when there was massive confusion concerning bus routes. He said the problems began on the first day of school, a Monday, but were mostly solved by Wednesday. Most of the problems occurred on routes in the city. The company changed the route matrix and updated the routes.

Supt. Dale Skinner said it was important to know that drivers did not drop of students unless they were being met. Some students were returned to their schools to wait for parents.

Board member Emile Metoyer asked if board members could be notified sooner of serious incidents such as the school bus wreck Aug. 29 since he did not get notification until the following day.   Edwards said he was in touch with Skinner as soon as he found out about the wreck and got him as much information as possible. He began notifying parents of students on the bus as soon as he learned about the wreck.

His company has rosters of students riding the buses as well as seating charts. The company conducts monthly safety meetings.

The school board is developing a policy stating that drivers employed by the school board must meet the same codes and requirements for their buses as leased buses. Board members want them to have cameras and air conditioning. There are only seven owner/operators and Edwards said most of those have already upgraded their buses. Skinner asked Metoyer to help develop the policy.

On Thursday, the board approved a policy regarding owner/operator buses.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Horne told the board Tuesday she is developing a policy for iPads use. Students will not be able to take the devices home since not every student has one assigned to them. Because of potential damage to the computer network, students cannot take their personal devices to school.

The school board will advertise for three positions, only one of which is new. The new job is internal auditor. Two other positions to be advertised are accounting clerk and accounting department manager.

In other general matters, Director of Special Education said she will have a demonstration of the Milo robot at the October meeting; Director of Personnel Linda Page was to interview Thursday for a food service director; Supervisor of Finance Richard Foshee said school board attorneys advised that the school system did not qualify to join a class action suit to recover payments of lieu of taxes.

Skinner had harsh words for the board members Thursday about their failure to commend faculty and staff for the rankings released last week by the La. Dept. of Education. Natchitoches Parish ranked seventh among the top 10 systems in the state for growth in progress toward mastery in ELA and math and eighth overall student grown.

Skinner said everyone in the system deserved credit for the marked improvement and the central office staff spent “hours and hours.” He included everyone—bus drivers, lunch room workers, custodians, teachers, principals and staff. “There’s no way to know what everyone goes through,” he said.

Several board members acknowledged they were remiss in not acknowledging the progress at the Tuesday meeting but offered their thanks for and recognition of the progress.