The School Board opened discussions regarding the consolidation of School Districts 6, 8 and 10 into Consolidated School District 11 at its meetings on April 6 and 8. The agenda item has been tabled at the moment. After the information hit the public after the board’s committee meeting on April 6, Superintendent Dr. Grant Eloi wanted to ensure everyone that the consolidation is a smart financial endeavor regardless of the proposed idea of a third high school. There will be equity in regards to each district pulling their own weight. The entire process has multiple steps, multiple votes at the school board, etc… The location on Waterwell Road is just a possibility. Many details will be worked out at the upcoming Town Halls where the community can provide input.
There are five districts within the school district taxing districts. This consolidation has nothing to do with political districts. When Cloutierville closed it became a non-functioning school district so all the supporting taxes that people used to pay in district six no longer exist. They only pay their constitutionally mandated taxes.
This leads to the idea that where two schools feed into a high school like in the Campti area. The district wants to adopt this model so along with this consolidation they’re proposing to the board that two community meetings on April 20 in Provencal and on April 22 in Marthaville, both at 6 pm.
The whole idea is if the district wants to create this model the next idea would be to create a standalone high school that would service the Cloutierville, Provencal and Marthaville areas. This proposal has been in the history of Natchitoches Parish for a long time. It was part of the original desegregation order but no one could ever get it done. The district has been doing some data mining and some qualitative interviews. There’s a desire in the southern and southwest parts of the parish to have a smaller school experience and the district cannot provide that currently.
This is nothing against Natchitoches Central, which is at its capacity. The consolidation of the districts and creation of a new high school would reduce the population of Central while also allowing people to have a method of schooling that they really want and desire and have been asking for for many years.
The district also seems to be losing the battle of competition. Over the past decade the district has lost close to $6 million in MFP dollars.
“The only people we could be mad at are ourselves,” said Eloi.
Because the district wasn’t offering parents what they wanted they sent their children to schools in other parishes, to private schools, or chose homeschooling.
“We thoroughly believe that if we don’t do something of this nature that the next shoe that’s going to drop is the potential charter school, another private school,” said Eloi. “We’re already seeing that to some degree in certain parts of the parish so this is a means of being more competitive with our education competitors.”
The other side of this is the roadblocks the district has. Eloi said he believes the district will only do this if they can obtain three things. One is diversity.
“We do not want to create homogeneous schools in this district and so we would have to determine that our lines would maintain a diversity that we’re all comfortable with in the parish. We’re working with ECCO Ride bus transportation to do this.”
The second thing is that the district cannot let Central suffer because of the addition of a new school, so the idea would be to build up and promote Central at the same time. The district will ensure that open enrollment is not something that will be considered in District 11. The districting lines would be strictly adhered to.
This would not affect the number of members on the School Board, which will remain the same as it is currently.
There’s also some issues with existing bond debt the district is going to have to work out that would have to go before the people to vote.
Speaking of being competitive, you have to be competitive and innovative in the district because you want to have that reputation that kids are going to get a good education in Natchitoches Parish and parents are going to be satisfied in the school of their choice. Eloi said they’ll be looking at the music and the arts.
“That’s actually when we presented the bond nine changes particularly within the city schools. The music is a big emphasis in expanding our music and we have allotments to a lot of schools in district nine for that. We actually have a meeting with kind of the the four families of music coming to the office on April 14.”
In other business the board approved the audit report as presented it was presented at their April 6 meeting. A representative from Fortenberry and Ballard presented the audit report for the fiscal year June 30, 2020. He went over a couple of good items regarding some system items that through the years have pretty much worked their way through and they’ve been taken care of. He added that the School Board should commend the district’s accounting staff and business affairs director because everything has now gotten to the point where everyone wants it. An unqualified audit opinion which pretty states that the numbers in the report are reasonable. A little example is that the statement of revenues expenditures and changes in the general fund shows the net fund balance position has increased by a little over $300,000 from the prior year. The representative said he wanted to note this because he remembers when he first started working with the district and for the first audit the cash position then was in the $4 million range so through the years the district has bumped up the general fund and a lot of improvements have been made there and as far as the solvency just for just general items in the school board.
“Everything is kind of looking upward,” he said.
In other news there were a couple of audit findings. The first one involved the national school lunch program. This has been a finding once before and there was no audit last year but there’s a date that the the food service director or has to get the the food count into the Louisiana Department of Education to get the district’s reimbursement. There were some instances where it was done a lot later and while there were extenuating circumstances, it’s a rule that they require the firm to look at. The representative added that there have been discussions on how to fix this and there’s a new director that is going in a new direction. Fixing the issue also helps the food service fund too because then the program will know its cash is coming in consistently.
The second finding deals with the district’s special education cluster (aka the idea program). There were some instances where they were signing forms stating that certain times are being worked to receive the grant funding for it. Some forms were filled out but they were pre-filled and some signatures were missing. This is just simple process of getting the paperwork done.
From an audit standpoint these are more or less minor findings. It’s not a major finding where there’s missing money or something like that. It’s just more less compliance and just getting down to doing that but other than that the rest of the audit report didn’t have anything that was a material weakness or any material non-compliances.
Waskom added that this was the end of the firm’s contract and he will be working to find a new firm moving forward.
Additionally, Eloi also wanted to dispel rumors surrounding the hiring process for the district’s new instructional specialist positions.
“There’s going to be a lot of eyes on these instructional specialists and there should be,” said Eloi. “We’re putting a lot of investment and a lot of time, money, energy, etc… and really this is kind of the driving force of our vision for the district. We want the eyes on the process but I want to be very transparent with how we’re doing this because I keep hearing the refrain from people that say, ‘Oh, it’s a good old boy system. You already give this to you know who your friends and so on and so forth so I want to let you know we spent no less than six hours last talking about how to interview these people. We discussed every detail of how we do this and how we do it equitably and fairly. The next thing is the application process which is extremely rigorous. They have to film a video of themselves teaching, they have to provide three letters of recommendation, they have to provide documentation of how they move students. The process itself is going to weed people out. Then there will be two informational meetings. We will also put a diverse committee together made up of different genders and races and experiences and ages that will look at the applicants. Then principals will have some degree of choice in their position
“We want people to know that we don’t want, you know, the cousins and bubbas and friends and all that. We want the best and it doesn’t matter if they’re in district out of district or whatever. We want the best and that’s our commitment.”
The district is also working on some recruitment tools for the website so applicants can type in their years of experience, type of job they want, their education, and then see see a salary schedule with how much money they’ll make in the district and an estimate of their tax checks.
Eloi also reported that he, Lee Waskom, and Pinkney have made trips over the last week to Walker to observe an amazing school with some amazing opportunities. The school had a bank in it and it had its own pizza place in it.
It had all sorts of entrepreneurial businesses and opportunities for kids and it was amazing. They got some great insight into the programs. They’ll also visit Bossier Community Career Center and observe their process and what they’re doing.
“We just want to see what can work and what will work for the students and folks in Natchitoches Parish,” said Eloi.
Sales Tax Report: From July of 2020 to the end of February the district’s running percentage right now is a 7.21 increase in sales tax that is still running very good.
There was also a 7.32 percent increase in sales taxes for the month but the cumulative for the year since July is a 7.21 percent increase.
“I’m very encouraged by this because you can see where it seems to be headed back up again,” said Waskom.
The general fund spending looks pretty much in order. The actual revenue is almost in line from the 2020 actual year to date and the year to date 2021. It’s within $2,000 of the exact same amount of revenue coming in. Looking at the expenses things are slightly down about $1.5 million overlapping in the general fund. Under child nutrition the difference between revenue and expenses is that revenue is down $127,811 over, which is slowly closing the gap, which used to be in the $450,000 range and it is still closing.
Some of that is reduced bills and has to do with fixed expenses and the district has reduced the number of meals served so there’s certain staff that have to be paid no matter what. Work is finally catching up right with billing. Waskom said he’s hoping to close the gap by June. Just getting food service to just be at neutral would be a good thing.
“I’m very comfortable with everything on the budget right now,” said Waskom.
Some of the MFP adjustments the district had to make were upsetting, according to Waskom, but he thinks that the board will hear some reports of money as the district starts to receive ESSER II stimulus money that’s coming in. Waskom said he will soon have more reports on additional funds.
Other agenda items included:
Motion to authorize Waskom to put out bids for locks for exterior doors to school campuses to fully secure properties. It’s two campuses in particular.
Approve budget update.