Nathan Wilson | Reporter
The Natchitoches Parish School Board (NPSB) began its combined Committee and Board meetings May 10 filled with students being honored for their achievements. Student of the Year Award selectees were recognized for their excellence as were the Lakeview Gators and Lady Gators basketball teams. The list of students awarded Student of the Year and remarks by coaches on behalf of the Gators and Lady Gators are below.
The board revisited a concern Board member Emile Metoyer had raised in a prior meeting about approval of out-of-state travel. The board previously relinquished their role in approving of out-of-state travel for district employees, but board members must still obtain approval, which Metoyer finds unreasonable. “As (a) board, we have to get approval to go out of state, but anybody else that’s an employee can travel whenever they want,” he said. “If we’re the ones that make the policy, why do we need to get approved if they don’t have to get approval?” he asked.
Superintendent Grant Eloi pointed to a need for clarification of the out-of-state travel policy. The board’s legal counsel, John Guise, addressed the problem. “Emile, I want to give you a straight answer, look you in the eye and tell you, if you or your auditor thinks there’s an issue that needs to be addressed you can do that with a simple act of ratification.” Board President Reba Phelps, along with members Billy Benefield and Tan’Keia Palmer, agreed to form an approval committee for the remainder of the year.
Eloi updated the board on developments including a low frequency of Covid-19 cases and the anticipated cessation of funding for the district’s voluntary tracking program. He pointed to a positive end-of-year testing experience and remarked on more than 1,000 enrolled in summer school across the district’s seven sites starting June 1.
The combined committee and board meeting introduced and voted for next year’s district handbook, wellness policy and financial plan and to retain the Natchitoches Times as its journal of record.
District staff presented reports on child nutrition, personnel, facilities maintenance and sales taxes. The board also received updates about the district’s budget and transportation plans.
In her report, Child Nutrition Director Shauna Hicks stated the district will be reimbursed for a claim of $389,765.18 from federal funds for April. “We have been feeding the students of Natchitoches Parish very well,” she said.
U.S. Foods will continue to supply the district, but bids are also being accepted for milk and milk products and paper and cleaning products. Phelps noted some parents had questioned whether the district could switch to bagged milk. “I think there were some parents who wanted their kids to suffer with the bagged milk like they did,” she said.
During the personnel report, Metoyer asked Director of Personnel Linda Page if all the teachers working in special education were certified. Page replied that not all had the relevant certifications. Special Education Coordinator Danna LaCaze revealed 83 percent of teachers in special education are certified and 62 percent are specifically certified for special education. “All of our classes are covered, so we’re just providing extra support for those teachers who are not certified,” she said.
Maintenance supervisor Ryan Shirley noted several nuisance animals in his report. He indicated an infestation of bats was remedied at Natchitoches Central High School, and a hive of bees was removed from Marthaville Elementary. He also noted a wildlife issue at Fairview Elementary. “We will have to remove an alligator out there in Fairview,” he said.
Shirley revealed construction is complete at Natchitoches Magnet, L.P Vaughn, and M.R. Weaver and East Natchitoches. He pointed out work on Lakeview’s football field has begun. Billy Benefield asked about multiple leaks at Fairview Elementary. “That is ongoing. Every day we could replace stuff out there. That’s how bad that is,” said Shirley.
Finance Director Lee Waskom presented the budget update. He credited high summer school enrollment with an improved outlook for the child nutrition fund. “I think we’re going to do pretty well with child nutrition overall because of summer school,” he said. “That is unexpected.” He remarked that he will add to the ESSER funds listed in his report as Covid-19 payment funds are included.
For the sales tax report, Waskom identified single digit decreases in car sales, while April sales tax revenues increased 3.45% year over year. “I think this is actually very good. We were keeping up against an exceptionally strong year,” he said. “We’ve done quite well.”
The board approved hiring social worker positions funded by the Aware Two grant. District social worker Jennifer Ingram stated the duration of the grant will fund the position for five years, and revealed her goal is to hire two initially with more to come later. She indicated she would like to see social workers become permanent employees. “The State Department, they’re also moving more to mental health,” she said. “They’re understanding our kids social and emotional needs must be met.”
The board also approved a pay rate of $20 per hour for additional janitors to assist with non-routine custodial services such as buffing floors and painting during the summer.
The board approved revisions to the district handbook representing updates to the policies district students and staff adhere to. Ingram highlighted changes reflecting the state’s switch to mandatory kindergarten and the change in age of compulsory attendance from seven to five. Changes to state law required revisions to the minimum durations of expulsion for offenses including possession of firearms or drugs on school property. Language was also added reflecting prohibitions against vaping and student photography or recording of audio or video. The dress code was relaxed to allow ear gauges and nose rings. An errata clarified students’ right to complete work upon missing school because of head lice.
Lakeview Lady Gators were recognized for reaching the third round in the play-offs. “We finished off our regular season number two in the state with a record of 20 and two,” remarked Coach Dewaski Fuller. “These girls, they didn’t even want to take a break.”
Lakeview Gators were recognized for making it into the top 28. “What every one of these kids did is they worked 365 days a year,” said Coach Brian Williams. “Every time I doubted them, the community doubted them, or the state doubted them, they’d find their way down there to top 28.”
Coach Fuller also recognized Lakeview junior Dillon Pikes for winning the state competition in the track and field Class 2A triple jump and setting a school record in the event.
Anita Dubois introduced the district’s Students of the Year. The full list of Students of the Year awardees is below.
Elementary Students of the Year
NSU Lab School- Caleb Bynog
Goldonna- Grace Day
Fairview Alpha- Connor Franks
Marthaville- Kyleigh Greer
Natchitoches Magnet- Peyton Helaire
East Natchitoches- Genesis Conday
Provencal- Eli Walker
Eighth grade Students of the Year
Natchitoches Magnet- Bryan Chen
Goldonna- Mathew Cherry
NSU Middle Lab- Christian Frazier
Lakeview- Traylyn Lofton
Marthaville- Blaine Mitchell
Natchitoches Junior High- She’Kinya Pipkin
Provencal- Kendall Presson
12th grade Students of the Year
Lakeview- Zoie Britt
Natchitoches Central- Anna Coleman
Overall Students of the Year
Elementary- Peyton Helaire
Junior High -Bryan Chen
High School- Anna Coleman