School board votes to demolish former Head Start building

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Head Start on MLK Google images

Carolyn Roy
The school board voted Thursday to begin the process to demolish the former Head Start building on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Discussion about the problem began at the committee meeting Tuesday when
board member Emile Metoyer brought up the subject. Board members regularly receive numerous complaints about the condition of the property.
At the Tuesday meeting, Director of Finance Lee Waskom recommended slowing the process since demolition will be costly. Just to hire DEQ certified asbestos and demolition consultants will cost $10,000.
Waskom wants to be cautious because costs for demolishing the Cloutierville school, $350,000 and $400,000, will be in this year’s budget as will those for demolishing the building on MLK Drive although the former Head Start building is considerably smaller.
“Can you give me one more month?” Waskom asked so he could make a presentation about the MLK Drive property in August.

THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE JULY 16, 2022, PRINT EDITION.

Metoyer said he had no problem waiting but he didn’t want the building to “sit, sit, sit, sit” like the Cloutierville school did.
Thursday, the board took action by unanimously voting to declare the property surplus and give permission to advertise for bids for demolition.
Board president Reba Phelps said there were other properties to be dealt with such as the Natchez school. She suggested looking at all of the vacant properties and prioritizing them.
Waskom also said that the board must address the Provencal school district is “vastly underfunded” with the school receiving only $115,000 a year in BRE funds for some 400 students.
In his monthly report, Superintendent Dr. Grant Eloi said that online school registration has been frustrating for a few but it has been “an overall success.” Those who have problems can contact the school or central office personnel for assistance. Eloi hopes registration will be completed by the time school starts.
Summer school had a consistent attendance of about 950 students. It cost $2.8 million that was paid with Federal ESSR funds. ESSR funds are part of the Federal stimulus package that addresses student-learning gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be free backpacks given out July 21 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Media Center behind the school board offices at 310 Royal.
Eloi met with personnel from the Natchitoches Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Capt. Jesse Taitano to review the school security plan. There is a district-wide plan and one for each school. They cover not only active shooters but numerous other scenarios such as inclement weather. The plans will be submitted to LSU for a free review by school security consultants.
He said law enforcement officers trained at Natchitoches Central Monday. At the June board meeting, Eloi said active shooter training is held when students are out of school so they won’t be traumatized.
In response to a question from board member Lela Harvey, Eloi said the plan includes locating classrooms for special needs students where they will receive the fastest emergency response.
Transportation Supervisor Felicia Washington told the board she hired five new drivers. New driver applications can be found at eccoride.com. She consulted with the Eloi about online registration to help establish bus routes. The company is also getting some new buses and she will ensure the air conditioning is working.
Supervisor of Maintenance Ryan Shirley gave an update on several projects saying construction is nearly complete at Natchitoches Central High School. He has solved a long-time problem of moisture under the gym floor at the Marthaville school. Pipes under the gym floor that did not drain to the outside were relocated.
Natchitoches Jr. High has a new HVAC system and work on the field house at Lakeview starts next week.
Shirley is considering installing batteries to back up the HVAC system at Weaver. Power surges cause the units to shut down resulting in the school being hot the next morning. The units work well but are affected by the power surges.
In his finance report, Waskom said sales tax collections were up 3.08 percent in May and 21 percent in June, an increase for which he had no explanation. The school board received $2 million more that it did in June the previous year. But Waskom has told the board that collections will probably stabilize at the lower level.
The general fund has $600,000 more than at this time last year. Among the major expenses were annual $800 raises for certified personnel and $400 for non-certified and staff that totaled $350,000. The raises were made possible through staffing efficiency.
The board also spent $365,000 for COVID-19 leave reimbursement.
District Technology Coordinator Mike Cozad described new digital signage that will be installed in the atrium at Natchitoches Central. It will better inform students of news and events and will be paid for with Title I Federal funds. It will replace a small television set. The board approved the purchase Thursday.
Cozad can now advertise for bids for a technology pickup truck with towing capacity that can visit schools. Purchase has been affected by supply chain issues and there are none on the State contract. The board authorized the purchase at the Thursday meeting. ESSR funds will pay for the truck.
Director of Operations for Teaching/Learning Felicia Pinkney talked about direct student services (DDS). DDS paid for costs of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP)placement exams, Jump Start internship opportunities, student credential exams and dual enrollment.
Pinkney said 41 scores of 50 or more resulted in more than 130 hours of (CLEP) credit; there was increased enrollment in AP courses; and more than 300 students took tuition-free dual enrollment courses through NSU and the Central Louisiana Technical Community College.
There will be junior high camps next week so elementary and junior high students can begin learning about programs that will be available to them as they progress.
At the Thursday meeting, the board also unanimously voted to award the milk and paper and cleaning supplies for the next school year; approved the canvass report of the April 30 1-cent sales tax election; approved adding the positions of high school attendance clerk to the salary schedule as well as amending the bookkeeper position from 11 to 12 months; and renewed a memorandum of understanding with Northwestern State for the next school year.