School Board looks to upcoming school year while dealing with Covid-19 repercussions

The School Board met Thursday evening, May 7, via teleconference with a full agenda. Firstly, Superintendent Grant Eloi gave his report, expressing his appreciation for all the shows of support during Teacher Appreciation Week.

In other news, the Natchitoches Parish School District recently received $2.9 million from the CARE Act (federal money to cover infrastructure, technology and other Covid-19 related items). He also shared that 52,770 meals have been handed out so far to feed the children of Natchitoches Parish. The school district has also handed out 7,336 student home learning packets.

The curriculum team is also planning summer developmental opportunities for teachers with traditional training as well as some Zoom training.

Eloi said he’s looking at three different plans for the beginning of upcoming school year. The first is traditional school as we know it, the second is a hybrid version with some in-person class time and some online learning and the third is a totally virtual learning experience. He’s waiting for indications from the Louisiana Department of Education and the governor for how to proceed.

During his first three weeks as superintendent, Eloi said he’s been working on an organizational chart with a specific focus on making sure the school district is the best steward of its money and making sure everyone is being used to the best of their talent.

He’s also working on a strategic plan for the district to get it where it needs to be academically. He said the school board can expect a full report on that this summer.

Eloi also feels like there’s a need for summer learning opportunities. He said he will work on formulating a more robust plan to present to the board at the end of May/early June.

He’s also spent a large portion of his time dealing with the Pupil Progression Plan, which is driving everything dealing with the education of the students of Natchitoches Parish. He’s met with every principal, most assistant principals, counselors, secretaries, district office staff, community leaders, and has meetings scheduled with the A+ Coalition, NSU, and Outpatient Medical Center.

“They [everyone he’s met with so far] are passionate, energetic and we have some great things going on,” said Eloi.

The board approved the adoption of an amended Covid-19 Pupil Progression Plan.

Finance Director Richard Foshee shared a forecast to show what numbers will be if the district experiences a drop in its sales tax revenue.

20% drop equals a $2.2 million shortfall by the end of the year

40% drop $4.4 Million

Worst case scenario: 60% drop $6.7 million

This impacts the district’s general fund budget (60%) and Sales tax checks (40%)

In addition to this there is some money Board Member Reba Phelps brought up the fact that in addition to the projected drop in sales tax revenue, there’s approximately $240,000-$250,000 that needs to be paid back to the Tax Commission Office. The Tax Commission collected taxes and sent them to the school district and the Tax Commission should not have collected the taxes. They overcorrected off a company that does business outside of the parish and taxes were collected on products that were sold outside of the parish.

Phelps asked if teachers were notified that this would be coming down the pipe and Foshee said if he notified them too early they might forget about it and that he wanted to wait until he had a better idea of what the amount would be. The impact should be around $400-$500 per check. Teachers usually get their checks mid July.

Board Member Billy Benefield asked if they can put off paying the money back to the tax Commission until next year because of how hard teachers are already being hit.

Board Member Emile Metoyer said it’s not like a lot of taxes have been collected lately so this check coming up may be smaller than December’s check.

For the budget balance report, revenues are exceeding expenses however the district has experienced a drop in our MFP revenue due to student enrollment drops (down about 58 students from October) which negatively impacts the district by about $300,000 per year.

A forecast on the revised budget shows the district will come in over budget by about $400,000 this year. The district is looking at about a $300,000 drop on the revenue side. This doesn’t take into account the revenue drop for the sales tax. Only two more months of this budget.

“We’re already experiencing less MPF funding and now we’re going to experience less sales tax,” said Foshee.

“This Covid-19 has not been kind to anyone,” said Benefield.

Other agenda items discussed an hourly employee business package and compensation for bus drivers. There are employees with hourly job, which include mainly tutors, some food service employees (most of these are working while some have chosen not to come to work), with a few exceptions, and some special ed workers who are still providing services through Zoom. Of these hourly employees 22 were designated whose employment will be terminated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bus drivers get paid from four sources, one of them being “operations.” The operations number is generated by the amount of miles traveled and the amount of students on the bus. This is spread out in an average across their pay throughout the year. The question is how can the district fund that piece of their salary when it is based on miles and students on the bus. They didn’t receive as much operations pay this month because of this. During the school year when the busses don’t run due to holidays or bad weather days the drivers see a dip in the pay. The dip is just bigger now due to Covid-19.

The board also approved the suspension of the current food service program with the last feeding day set for May 19. On that day food service workers will be allowed to perform shut downs in the school kitchens. This is to allow them the time they need to do the proper shut downs. Otherwise, workers would have to perform kitchen shut down the following week and pay for this extra time is not currently budgeted for this year.