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School board discusses budget, MHS, lawsuit

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The Webster Parish School Board moved quickly through a packed agenda in its monthly meeting Monday night, which included updates from two high school principals and another executive session to discuss the well-documented ACLU religion lawsuit.

A financial committee meeting preceded these topics, as Finance Director Crevonne Odom presented the 2018-19 consolidated budget for approval.

“We had a very good year in our sales taxes,” Odom said. “They’re back on the upswing, so we’re budgeting that that will continue, but we’re still being conservative in that budgeted amount.”

A few items caused some concern among the board, especially the roughly $281,000 budgeted cost of electricity to Minden High School.

“That figure is insane,” said board member John Madden. “But utilities in the Minden schools are going to be high.”

The board unanimously approved the budget in the regular meeting. They also approved numerous purchases and maintenance projects at parish schools, including a total of 300 Google Chromebooks for Central Elementary School and Lakeside Junior/Senior High School. Central was cleared to buy 120 Chromebooks for over $37,000.

Lakeside math teachers will receive 90 Chromebooks for $395 each for use in curriculum implementation as well as assessments. Another 90 older model Chromebooks for $260 each will go to social studies classes.

Lakeside Principal Denny Finley said the Chromebooks are integral to proper implementation of new mathematics curriculum.

“Last year, every grade level 6 through 12 at Lakeside was operating under Eureka Math,” he said. “This year our high school has switched to Agile Minds. Under Agile Minds, at least every two students needs a Chromebook, but it’s better if every student has their own Chromebook. With Agile Minds, students can use the Chromebook and interact with [the curriculum]. With this type of Chromebook, you can flip it over and touch it and drag stuff on the screen. You can’t do that with the models we’re getting for social studies.”

Minden High School Principal Becky Wilson gave a presentation to the board about the school’s new “Roll Block” initiative. This program introduces a new, not-for-credit course into the schedules of 830 students at MHS. These are either “remediation,” “intervention,” or “enrichment” courses, depending on individual student needs.

“ROLL,” which stands for Reaching Optimal Learning Levels, seeks to ensure every student has someone who fully understands their situation and is working to lift their performance and understanding. Students deemed not in need of remediation or intervention take enrichment courses ranging from archery to yoga. The MHS schedule was extended 45 minutes to accommodate this initiative into the middle of the school day.

“It came out of a need for remediation, but when you start pushing for those things for certain kids, it’s not fair to say everyone else doesn’t have to do this,” Wilson said. “Instead, we said, ‘How can we help these kids?’ So the point, even in the enrichment classes, is to have small enough classes where there are teachers who can know every one of those kids. It’s not a for-grade class – it’s a class where they can build relationships and make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

In his report, Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland said talks with FEMA regarding the old MHS gymnasium are still ongoing.

“To say the least, this has been a tedious, somewhat frustrating process,” he said. “I don’t know what else we can produce for them. I don’t know. We have produced more documentation, given more facts and figures, and answered all their questions.”

Rowland said the last estimate he was given was around $400,000 in possible FEMA reimbursement, but when that will come is unclear.

Rowland also gave an update on the attempted sale of the Springhill High School surplus property. After a bid process ending on August 30 with a $150,000 minimum bid, no bids came in.

Board member Jerry Lott said he would hesitate to lower the price any further.

“I’d hate to see us give away that valuable piece of property for less than $150,000,” he said. “I’d rather mow it for ten years than sell it for less than that.”

Representing Springhill, member Malachi Ridgel said he agreed with Lott, but it is discouraging to have made no progress in selling the property after several years.

The meeting ended with an executive session in which the board discussed matters related to the ongoing religion litigation with parent Christy Cole and the ACLU. The session was easily the shortest regarding the case to date, and the board unanimously voted to follow the advice of its legal counsel upon returning to regular session.

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