Covid protocols in local schools dependant upon BESE meeting

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Carolyn Roy | News Editor

Supt. Dr. Grant Eloi said during a school board committee meeting Tuesday that the district will wait until the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education meeting Oct. 12-13 to make a decision about whether to change COVID-19 protocol. State Supt. of Education Cade Brumley said last week that local districts now have the option of letting students who have come into close contact with students or staff who test positive for COVID-19 to stay in their classrooms with consent of parents or guardians. Before his latest announcement, students exposed to the virus were sent home to quarantine.

Natchitoches Wood

Eloi said that only four parishes have opted in to follow Brumley’s latest guidelines. “The rest of us are opting out or are waiting for more guidelines,” Eloi said about what he called a “shift” in the La. Dept. of Education policy. At the urging of legal council, he said he is waiting for stronger guidelines from BESE at its October meeting. “We are not going to make any decision about quarantining until after BESE meets.”

Eloi also said that the La. Dept. of Hospitals has concerns and disagrees with the LDOE guidelines. He said that although no one likes masking and social distancing, it appears to be working in Natchitoches Parish schools. During the past seven weeks, only 27 have been quarantined and only five tested positive among the student population of between 5,500 and 5,600. Eloi said he was excited to see the numbers drop by multiple percentages each week.

In other business, Eloi distributed copies of the proposed budget for Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) funds. Where the money is being spent can be found in the proposed budgets online at louisianacomeback.com Natchitoches Parish should receive between $20-$30 million in federal funds over the next three years. Eloi and Director of Finance Lee Waskom have been revising the salary schedule to clear up what Eloi said were “murky” issues.

They finished revisions for school food service, maintenance, school secretaries and custodians. They will present them to the board at the November meeting. Waskom expressed his “immense frustration” over the low insurance company estimate of damages incurred by all 14 schools during Hurricane Laura. He said the $98,660 estimate was factually wrong.

Attorney Joe Stamey introduced principals of the firm of Cimarron Co. of Alexandria that manages insurance claims for catastrophic events. They inspect each building, establish a scope of claims and detail losses to establish a comprehensive plan to present to the insurance company to avoid litigation. An example of the information they provide is the rise in cost of materials that is from 25-40 percent higher than that provided on 10-year-old computer models used by the insurance companies. They present real, not outdated information. An example of the company’s effectiveness is they increased the amount of claim money given to the Grant Parish School Board from $20 to $40 million.

At the board meeting Thursday, Waskom said an inspection at the school in Goldonna revealed extensive wind damage to the roof as well as additional damage caused by the ice storm. He said damage to the roof will total more than the original insurance estimate of damage to all schools. Stamey said the disparity between the insurance claim and actual damage appeared to be a self-serving desire of the insurance company and termed it bizarre. No action was required to proceed with hiring the company.

Maintenance Supervisor Ryan Shirley said in his report that construction is ongoing at every school. New freezer equipment has been installed at Natchitoches Central, L.P. Vaughn’s ice machine has been cleaned, toilets and restroom facilities are always in a state of inspection and repair, grounds cleanup is underway, white boards were installed at Goldonna and doors and windows were installed or replaced at several schools. The inventory pricing is nearly complete for the installation of Fastenal vending machines that will keep maintenance and repair parts available at each school. Shirley said this week, the specifications will be advertised seeking lawn care bids.

Child Nutrition District Manager Shawna Hicks report stated that a generator for the central warehouse will cost between $80,000 and $100,000 and is not in the budget. Generators are needed at each school but the process to obtain them will start with one at the Central Office where the greatest loss was experienced during Hurricane Laura. Hicks continues to seek grants to cover the generator costs. She secured a $24,000 grant from the Dept. of Defense that will supply fresh fruit and vegetables to students. She secured additional commodity items that resulted in a savings of $15,000.

At the Thursday meeting, the board approved leasing turf from Sustainability Partners for the Lakeview stadium at a cost of $10,091 per month for 10 years. Under terms of the lease, the company will maintain the turf and replace it after 10 years. The lease includes a three-month management program during which they fluff, clean and stress the turf that is 12-15 degrees cooler than other products. Should the board use the company for 20 years, it will redo the sub-surface. The cost of the lease is about the same as one estimate of $893,800 that included no maintenance.

The board also approved the purchase of two modular buildings to be placed near the band and ROTC field at Natchitoches Central to increase student capacity by 45. Eloi said the buildings are modern and not like modular building of the past. They will be near the main building and students will have access to bathrooms. Eloi said they will be no different than other buildings on the campus.

At the Thursday meeting, the board adopted a new resolution stating that the tax elections for District 8 and 10 have been moved to Nov. 13 because of Hurricane Ida. The board also approved contracting with Strategic Demographics LLC to conduct the malapportionment study.