Alternative sources sought for broadband infrastructure funding


Mask mandate not sitting well with parents

Carolyn Roy |
News Editor
The school board covered a number of subjects during the committee meeting Tuesday.

This article published in the Jan. 15, 2022, print edition

Director of Personnel Linda Page said, “We’re still holding our own. I ask that you never forget that the people we have working for us are doing the best they can.” Page asked the board to consider the hardships the staff had experienced during COVID when considering delays and other problems. “Keep in mind we are in survival mode.”
Page said that many employees were tired, were in the third round of the pandemic, had been sick or had family members sick with some even having family deaths. Many experienced loss of income from family members who were sick.
Reba Phelps
Dist. 6

The La. Dept. of Education is conducting a survey among personnel and human resources directors to address the deficits in the school workforce that has affected every area. “We’re doing better than OK, considering,” Page said
In his report, Supt. Dr. Grant Eloi said although funding for providing high-speed Internet to students and teachers has been withdrawn because of bureaucratic issues, the board has applied for two major grants to cover the costs. Despite the change in funding, he said the broadband infrastructure was “very much happening” despite the delays.
Beverly Broadway
Dist. 9

As for an update on COVID-19, the parish numbers the first week back from the holidays showed fewer positives than experts predicted. Many schools around the state have gone to full virtual instruction with a few parishes going fully remote or virtual. “I do have an agenda and it’s to keep students as safe as possible and keep us from going fully remote or virtual.”
Eloi said he is hopeful the virus will peak this week and a downturn will begin.
A parent, Lenzie Waters, is a Registered Nurse who spoke to the board about her displeasure with her son being required to wear a mask. She said every parent should have the right to choose.
Adding to his report, Eloi said Payne’s Lawn Service will begin this week on the cleanup at Natchitoches Magnet and Natchitoches Parish Technical and Career Center (NPTCC). Payne’s will clear the underbrush and then evaluate what should be removed. He will update at the next meeting.
Director of Finance Lee Waskom reported, at the request of board member Emile Metoyer, on the parking lot at the school bus headquarters on Parkway. Progress stopped on the project because of a subdivision covenant that some residents wanted enforced. The issue has been ongoing nearly two years and Metoyer wants a resolution. Waskom said attorney Joe Stamey appears to have reached a compromise with residents who seem to be satisfied if the school board will move the fence inward the depth of one parking space. Regional Construction is ready to complete the lot that Waskom said was vital for bus parking. The City has given permission to move forward once the school board submits a revised plan.
Another lingering problem is what to do with the Cloutierville School and former Head Start Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, both vacant.
Waskom said both are priority but demolishing Cloutierville is his immediate focus since the Head Start Center is mostly secured. Both are problematic because of asbestos. The board gave its approval to proceed with getting bids to demolish Cloutierville School.
Metoyer is concerned about the liability of the Head Start Center should someone get injured there. While there was interest last year from two groups wanting to buy that building, Waskom said no one has come forward.
Some $400,000 is budgeted for vacant buildings. If there is money left after work on the Cloutierville, it will be used at the Head Start building. Metoyer suggested rescuing useable items such as computer cabinets after they are declared surplus.
At the Thursday meeting, the board voted to advertise for bids to remove the asbestos and demolish the building. However, Metoyer said if any group wants to take over the building, they should come forward.
Board Member Regine´ Bell had concerns about three issues. Her first was whether a full-time person was hired to administer a $360,000 mental health grant. Eloi said there is a point person for the grant, but no one had been hired.
Second, she asked if Eloi had completed an ad to promote diversity, equality and inclusion. Eloi said the he would email her a copy.
She then asked about what she said were problems with the school board website. She said policy changes were not updated.
Eloi said he was not satisfied with the company that reviews and posts the policy changes that have exhibited as much as six months lag time. He said the solution could be whether the board votes to change to a policy management console through the La. School Board Association.
At the Thursday meeting, the board voted to contract for that new service.
ECCO Ride Operations Manager Felicia Washington said the company is 100 percent staffed although there have been delays caused by COVID-19. Some drivers are covering double routes but delays have been only up to 30 minutes, not long term. “Kudos to my drivers,” Washington said.
Ryan Shirley said in his maintenance report that construction is about complete at many schools. His staff will install portable buildings to house the culinary students while the kitchen is being remodeled at NCHS. The area will have state-of-the-art equipment and be a multiple-use kitchen to train students for commercial culinary jobs who can move into the workforce after high school. The project is being paid for with District 9 bond money. The board voted to advertise for bids for the equipment.
He talked about problems with the water pipes at Fairview Alpha. Samples have shown the water contains oxygen and chlorine that combine to corrode the pipes. He is waiting on another water analysis before deciding if pipes need to be replaced.
Waskom said that construction should be complete at Magnet, L.P. Vaughn, Weaver and East by March and at all schools by mid-April.
School Food Service Supervisor Shawna Hicks said her department received a $20,771 cash payment from the USDA to assist with food chain supply problems because of the difficulty in finding food and the increase in prices. The food service budget was $268,000 in the black as of Tuesday but more good news was that Hicks received payment that day of $358,000 for the November bill.
She expects to receive a generator in mid-February donated by Chevron. Because of COVID, students are eating in classrooms or in areas where they can be spaced 6 feet apart.
Addressing concerns by board member Dorothy McGaskey, Eloi explained an LDOE program where employees can get a coupon code that will entitle them to four free online visits with a mental health professional. At the next board meeting, he hopes to facilitate a ZOOM meeting with mental health professionals to talk about counseling for employees.
Qualifying will be Jan. 26-28 for the District 5 school board seat vacated when Katrina Willis moved. The election will be March 26.
The board adopted a resolution calling for an election April 30 to renew a 1 cent sales tax that supplements the general fund.
At the Thursday meeting, McGaskey expressed concerns about hiring practices. She advocated for more diversity in the hiring saying her constituents wanted more African Americans hired.
As part of the financial report, Waskom said that, so far, sales tax collections were up 16 percent over last year resulting in an additional $1.5 million.
The board elected officers at the Thursday meeting. Reba Phelps will be president and Beverly Broadway will be vice president.