District makes plans to shutter Denhamtown Elementary

Published 7:17 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Monday, Bogalusa School Board Superintendent Willie Breaux laid out the argument for closing Denhamtown Preschool.

In a word, her argument was savings.

Breaux made her argument before the school board and a dozen school employees at a board committee meeting Monday night. She said closing the school would save the district in utilities, insurance, salaries, mileage, maintenance and leasing agreements.

Under Breaux’s proposal, the district will go from five schools to four, and from six principals and two assistant principals to two principals and five assistant principals. The assistant principals will earn “assistant principal salaries,” Breaux said.

Her consolidation plan did not include a reduction in teaching staff.

The pre-kindergarten grades will be moved to Byrd Avenue Primary School (currently Byrd Avenue Elementary School), and Central Elementary School will house all the elementary school students up to the fifth grade. Remaining grades will be held at Bogalusa High School.

Breaux said the decision was hard, and Denhamtown Principal Barbara Greeley did not agree with the move.

“Mrs. Greeley certainly didn’t agree, and I respect that, but we had a good conversation and it was all professional,” Breaux said. “This wasn’t something we came up with overnight and we are open to constructive criticism.”

However, Breaux said district finances and a shrinking population leave her with little choice.

“As you know, we’ve dropped as far as population has concerned and we’ve lost a million-plus dollars this year going to the charter school,” she said. “With the population decreasing, we’re going to have to do something.”

Breaux said she would begin sending out letters to all staff and administration immediately.
Besides the board, there were about 15 people in the crowd Monday, and nobody seemed particularly surprised by the news.

District maintenance employee Vic Boyles pointed out that if any school building should be shutdown, it should be the Denhamtown school. He said it is not centrally located and has insufficient parking facilities. In addition, he said there is asbestos in the building that could require expensive abatement.

“Add up the cost of asbestos abatement at Denhamtown, which may or may not have to be done — it was already done at Byrd. And that’s where you’ll see savings, in my opinion,” he said.

Board member Adam Kemp suggested selling the Denhamtown building and the board seemed receptive to the idea.

The school board first has to vote to shutter the campus. That vote should come Thursday, at the board’s regular meeting at 5:30 p.m.

“What we’re facing is not unique,” said board president Curtis Creel. “The state’s financial plight is a grim plight.”

He called the closure inevitable, as did Kemp.

“If we stick together, we can get through this,” said Creel, echoing the district’s motto, “We are all in this together.”

Greeley was not immediately available for comment as the school — and the district — were closed Tuesday due to the threat of inclement weather.

Besides reviewing Breaux’s consolidation plan, the board also heard updates from various district departments.

For the most part, the reports were routine, though Phlesher Mingo asked the board for guidance correcting students who demonstrate repeated serious behavioral issues and Karla McGehee told the board the district needs to do a better job at bringing teachers to the district.

Mingo said she sees many of the same students cycle through the alternative school.

“We’re filling up the alternative school,” she said. “I know you want us to get them off the campus and get them into the alternative school, but what else can we do?

Kemp suggested taking a page from St. Tammany Parish’s school system.

“St. Tammany has a military program,” Kemp said. “They have a drill sergeant who is running it and basically, they’re getting their education and it’s like the youth challenge program, but it’s within the school system. And it’s court-ordered so they do have to attend it or go to jail.”

Breaux suggested looking at the system, because she agreed that the Bogalusa system was failing to reform some of its most misbehaved students.

“We’re going to have to find some way to reform these kids and change their behaviors,” she said. “Because these are repeat offenders. … We’re going to come up with some strategies that stop these repeated offenders … because the punishment that were giving them is not working. It’s not working.”
When McGehee gave the personnel report, she said a math teacher at the high school recently left. The teacher was replaced with a permanent substitute, though McGehee is looking at a potential replacement teacher.

“I am looking for teachers every day. I need some,” she said.

The board asked why the city couldn’t retain teachers. Kemp said the district provides pay comparable to other areas in the state, but McGehee said the district couldn’t offer any more than anyone else, so prospective teachers were overlooking the city for other areas.

Kemp said some districts provided housing for teachers through apartments, and he also suggested offering mileage for teachers, if the district has the money.

“We’re going to have to step outside the box and think what can we offer them that wont break the bank,” he said.