Board delays DES closure vote

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Bogalusa City School Board again declined to make a decision on whether or not to close Denhamtown Elementary School.

The item had been on an early board meeting agenda, but it was gone from the official agenda at the meeting.

Last month, the item was tabled after board members asked to see clearer estimates of savings from the proposed consolidation. Those numbers came during a committee meeting Monday, and according to district financial officer Deloris Walker, the district might save close to $1 million.

Board member Adam Kemp made a motion to amend the agenda and include the consolidation plan and Eleanor Duke seconded his motion. However, board member Calvin Hymel and vice president Paul Kates both voted against amending the agenda. In order to amend the agenda, the board has to be unanimous in its decision, so Kemp’s motion failed.

However, any board member may request an item to be placed on a future agenda, so it is likely the consolidation plan will turn up again.

After the vote, Superintendent Toni Breaux, who has championed the consolidation, expressed disappointment with the board’s vote.

“I am just so disheartened,” she said. “I told you at this last meeting that you are holding my progress. I don’t care if you vote for it or not but we need to make plans.”

Among other issues, Breaux said she needs to make a plan for the district’s pre-kindergarten program now housed at Denhamtown.

In addition, she told the board that a failure to consolidate could bankrupt the district.

“I didn’t come here on a deficit and I don’t want to go out on a deficit,” she said.

She also accused the board of “playing checkers” and asked them to just make a decision, one way or another.

“This is your decision and I will accept it, whatever it is,” she said.

Board member Brad Williams responded to Breaux that the board was not, in fact, playing checkers.

“Our decision to hold off on this is its not playing checkers,” he said. “It’s just getting more educated on it. I don’t care if we need to come to a special session in a week or real soon but that’s my take on it.”

He also thanked board President Curtis Creel for getting involved in the schools directly, a point of contention with Breaux, who has accused Creel of interfering.

But Williams praised Creel for talking to the staff of the schools and getting personally involved.

“I would like to thank him for taking the time to do that,” he said.

In the meantime, board members will be getting together with district officials to gather more information about the consolidation plan. The personnel committee is expected to meet with Breaux and the financial committee, on which Creel sits, will meet with Walker.

Earlier in the week, Creel had said he was not sure the district could save as much money as Walker estimated, though he also praised her work.

“If there’s anyone in the system that earns their keep, it’s Deloris Walker and I would never say or imply that she inflates figures or misrepresents figures,” he said.

Creel said he still hopes the district can come up with a way to save money that does not include closing Denhamtown.

“As far as the consolidation is concerned, I am hoping that between personnel and finance and information gathering, we can come to a better conclusion for what’s best for the system,” he said.

In addition to Denhamtown, the board also discussed a school resource officer. The board — and Hymel in particular — had been anxious to hire a school resource officer for some time, and the board approved a proposal to employ a resource officer to tackle behavioral issues.

“I’ve been asking for this for four years and we’ve just drug it on and drug it on and drug it on. Maybe this will help. I hope so,” he said.

However, Hymel added that he would like to see the district shed some of its other security and behavioral personnel to save money.

“Are we reducing some of the other staff? We can’t pay seven people to do a two-man job,” he said.

The SRO will be a police officer that the district pays for. The position will cost the district $55,000, although that will include retirement and benefits.

Walker explained that the district will write a check to the Bogalusa Police Department, which will hire and train the officer, and the officer will work for the district for 11 months. One month out of the year, while school and summer school are not in session, the officer will be assigned to the city’s police force. He or she will also work with regular officers during other school holidays.

The board also recognized the district’s teachers of the year. They include Dianne Michel of Denhamtown, Byrd Elementary teacher Amber Fasola, Central Elementary’s Elizabeth Owens-Pack, Bogalusa Middle School’s Ivy Lewis, and Bogalusa High School’s Rachel Galloway.