Fairview Alpha Elementary is set to get a new softball field. At its meeting Thursday, the School Board accepted a bid of $141,314 from Testament Construction Services LLC of Shreveport. It has a 120-day completion date and board member Eugean Garner said construction should start in the next 30 days. The field will be a major host of community events. Garner said the purpose of getting a new field is to provide a sense of community to the school.
The only other bid was from Walker Construction Co. Inc., for $164,000. When the field is built, maintenance will be the responsibility of the school. Money to build the field is included in a bond issue passed by the voters in that district.
The board also accepted the bid of $54,720 from A&G Computer Services for a Dahua security camera system at Natchitoches Central. Other bids submitted were from Homeland Safety Systems for $164,343; Hope Contractors of Shreveport for $137,000; Martin Communications for $92,326; and Simpson Security Systems for $128,790. The Dahua camera was specified in the bid because it is already being used in the school system.
Board member Emile Metoyer initiated a discussion about Chinese-manufactured Dahua cameras having been banned for use in government agencies including cabinet-level departments, military other federal facilities.
The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 bans the purchase of such equipment produced by a company owned or controlled by the Chinese government. Supervisor of Finance Richard Foshee consulted with school board attorneys who researched the issue and found that the national act does not apply to school boards.
Board member Dorothy McGaskey asked how the Legislative raises given to teachers and support personnel are being distributed. Foshee said the raises are now included in the salary schedule and are distributed in monthly paychecks. The distribution for 12-month employees began in August and will begin this month for nine-month employees. Teachers will get an annual raise of $1,000 and support personnel, $500. The question was whether the raises should be dispersed monthly or in lump sums. Foshee said instructions from the State directed monthly distributions since the raises became part of the salary schedule. There was discussion about what would happen if an employee received a lump sum and then decided to leave the system. Some employees believed the raises would be given in lump sums as are the sales tax distributions that are given twice each year.
The board approved a change in the travel policy that will raise reimbursement from 44 cents per mile to 50 cents. At the committee meeting Tuesday, the proposal was to consider raising the rate to 55 cents which is approved by the IRS. But after consideration at the meeting Thursday, the rate was set at 50 cents per mile, effective Oct. 1.
Next year’s travel budget provides for 44 cents so a budget revision could be required. The effect will be that travel could be limited somewhat because of the increase. Another change in the travel policy addresses the length of time employees have to submit their travel expenses. The first proposal, that expenses should be submitted within a month of the travel, was reworded to read within 30 days. Board member Reba Phelps suggested the change to make the requirement more specific.
A lengthy discussion at the committee meeting Tuesday was about whether to contract with OpenGov, an internet service that provides transparency and financial management for school board finances. Board member Beverly Broadway wants the board to have an OpenGov consultant determine if the program would work with their financial programs. She said the interactive system would allow public access to budget and financial information with the public able to access at any time. She believes the school board should be on the forefront of providing access to the public to improve transparency.
OpenGov charges according to the size of the budget. Broadway provided tiers of price estimates based on three options. They range from annual costs of $28,000 for budget, fund balances, debt, etc.; to $35,000 for additional dashboards and reporting for financial and non-financial data, narrative reporting, unlimited open town hall/survey functions; and to $50,000 for added budget builder and workforce planning and personnel forecasting. There will be a one time implementation fee ranging from $12,000 to $50,000 depending on the scope.
The company believes that customers will see up to 50 percent reduction in time/administrative work on budget developments; up to 80 percent reduction in time spent on reporting; up to 20 percent reduction in information requests; and up to 1 percent of budget identified for reallocation. Foshee asked that if the board agrees to use a consultant, it wait until after February when payroll and personnel data will be transferred to new software. School Board Financial Auditor Pat Roque said that the finance department could post such data on the school board website. She said the board shouldn’t spend money for what the finance department could do if so directed such as posting budget, check registers and other information. “What do you want? Let us help first,” Roque said. At the meeting Thursday, Broadway provided more information about procedure the board would follow to determine if the system would work for the school board. She agreed to table the suggestion to move forward so board members can get input from employees and board members at the Lafayette Parish School Board that has implemented OpenGov.
The company will offer webinars to the school board to provide more information if the board wants. In her report, Director of Personnel Linda Page said that as of Thursday, there were 685 full-time employees. Page gave a brief report on school security. Doors are locked at all times and visitors are buzzed in. School resource officers are diligent in checking the locks. Schools have fire, weather and lockdown drills monthly and the system has a two-phase shooter training plan.
Board member Billy Benefield Jr., said the board had the Sheriff’s Office and City Police Dept. to thank for getting the schools prepared for emergencies.