DES closure still up for debate

Published 7:00 am Friday, April 8, 2016

For weeks, the Bogalusa City School Board has sought to get more information on what financial impact closing Denhamtown Elementary might have.

Superintendent Toni Breaux has said she believes the best way for the district to save money and move forward is by closing the elementary school that houses the district’s pre-kindergarten program for 3-and-4-year-old children. But to date, she has been unable to convince the majority of the board to approve a consolidation plan.

This week, the board’s financial committee, board President Curtis Creel and Vice President Paul Kates met with Deloris Walker, the district’s financial officer, to get some more information.

Walker told The Daily News that the district could save some money even without closing the school and possibly even balance its budget, but she pointed out that at the beginning of the current school year, the district’s budget was solid.

“When school started, the budget was balanced,” she said. “But then 100 kids left.”

And once those kids left, so did the matching state funding.

“We don’t have the same students we had,” she said. “With that loss, you have to look at your budget.”

The district’s fiscal year begins July 1, and Breaux has been pushing for the board to make a decision one way or another so Walker could begin working on next year’s plan, but Creel said he doubted there will be a special meeting this month to tackle that issue.

“Because of that holiday, in between that and the committees having an opportunity to meet with the administration, I don’t think that there will be a special called meeting,” he said.

The next scheduled board meeting is April 28.

Creel, who has opposed closing Denhamtown, said he’s still not convinced the district needs to close any schools.

“Basically, like I said before, that $1 million dollar (in savings) figure isn’t just contingent upon the closure of the school,” he said. “A whole lot of stuff has to happen in order to achieve those savings.”

Creel argues that the district can save money in other ways. The board is still considering charging parents for the pre-kindergarten programs, and if they do that, those programs would become cheaper. Creel said if the district did charge for the program, some parents could qualify for federal funding through a childcare program.

“But basically, I don’t think we’ll know until the beginning of school how many children will quality for the program,” he said.

Creel said the state’s budgetary woes could spell additional trouble for the district.

“Our budget is really contingent upon the state,” he said. “Even the state may or may not have a budget.”

Even so, Creel said he believes attrition could also save the district substantially.

“I know there are some positions that will be vacated through attrition, retirement and moving round that will save a substantial amount of money from what I understand,” he said.