ECCO Ride bus contract extended 5 years

Molly Coleman and Natalie Molina earned perfect scores on the LEAP 2025 Assessment. Teachers Callie Richardson, Anne Stultz and Lisa Thompson helped these Natchitoches Central High School students achieve this accomplishment. From left are -Dr. Grant Eloi, NPSB Superintendent; Richardson, English II teacher; Molina; Coleman; Thompson, Gifted English I teacher; and Stultz, Gifted Algebra I teacher.

Goldonna to get broadband, Magnet to get Pre-K and kindergarten classes, virtual expulsion plan approved

ECCO Ride presented a proposition Tuesday at the School Board committee meeting to extend their contract five years. Finance Director Lee Waskom said the board attorney approved the five year extension at a “much better rate.” They discussed the options of renewing the contract or returning to operator owned buses. That would mean benefits, leave time, retirement and payroll for over 80 drivers who would have to purchase their own buses at approximately $100,000 each.

Age of buses was also mentioned since owner operator buses tend to be older than subcontracted buses. ECCO Ride buses average under five years. Waskom presented information for a full comparison at Thursday’s meeting. He said the ECCO contract would be a $2.1 million savings over owner operator services. The contract does have a termination clause should the company not fulfill their obligations or retain their current status of operation.

Waskom said in his finance report that he was happy with the sales tax numbers for December. In November, the board received $7,675,007 year-to-date. In December that number jumped to $9,168,109, an increase of 6.73%. Waskom asked the board to accept the bid for Goldonna to get fiber optic internet service through Unity Fiber.

E-Rate, coupons from the federal government, will pay 90% of the cost. “We have also found funding to that our matching 10% has also been funded by stimulus money,” said Waskom. The measure was passed Thursday. Waskom also said he was to meet with representatives of EpicTouch to discuss extension of services throughout the Goldonna area. A Virtual Expulsion Student Plan addresses how expelled students could become virtual students.

Eloi elaborated on the plan saying services were currently being provided to expelled students. He said those students would be taught by the same teacher virtually as they were taught in the classroom. He said personnel currently used for expelled students could be better utilized. It would also keep most expulsions to nine weeks, keep the students on the same curriculum, allow remediation and keep students on track. Eloi said MyFi and an iPad would be provided. Hotspots are available at many locations around the parish. He said he pulled the data of all expelled students in the last two years and of those, 96% had access to “at least consistent cellular service.”

The teachers would be responsible for monitoring and keeping track of the students in the classes they are already in. Eloi said as of Tuesday, there were only 15 expelled students, with two of those returning to class Wednesday. “We must find creative ways to be more strategic in our way of thinking and … focus on the things that matter,” Eloi said. The plan was approved Thursday.

Magnet Principal Stephonie French spoke to the board concerning the benefits of adding a preschool and kindergarten to the school. “It will keep kids in an A school for 10 years,” she said. She said students are currently tested at the end of kindergarten. By getting them into the school earlier they would be “…building our kids from the foundation.” The request was approved Thursday with the only dissenting vote cast by Billy Benefield. There will be two preschool classes and two kindergarten classes for a total of approximately 80 students. Those students must test for entrance. Testing will be open to anyone in the parish. Eloi said approval was the first step in the process with many details to be worked out in the future.

In weekend print edition Feb. 6-7, 2021