The October 2 meeting of the Webster Parish School Board was unusually long with much discussion and information given. The meeting started on two particularly bright notes: Tammie Jones, who recently retired from food service for the parish, was named the Employee of the Month and was presented with a plaque by Rodney Taylor of Taylor & Sons, and an award was presented to the Doyline High School basketball team for winning the 2020 State Championship. Both of these will be featured in future Minden Press-Herald stories.
The next 30 minutes of the meeting was spent discussing the Med Gap HRA Employee Only option. Insurance policies across the board have increased due to inflation, and it was proposed that on this policy employees would need to start paying for spouses or children to be on the policy. After much discussion, the board voted to have the district pay the full amount for one more year. This will cost the district an additional $109,000 for the year for this plan, the total cost being almost $479,000. Board members voting for this were Jerry Lott of District 11, Johnnye Kennon of District 10, Jana Watson of District 6, Ronnie Rhymes of District 5, Jonathan Guthrie of District 4, Charles Strong of District 3, and Debbie Thomas of District 2. Voting against were Susan Addington of District 12, Jerri Lee of District 9, Glenda Broughton of District 8, and Linda Kinsey of District 7. Margaret Edens of District 1 was absent.
Items 8-12 were approved unanimously without discussion and included a field trip, declaring some miscellaneous items as surplus to be sold, authorizing the superintendent to sign for motorist coverage insurance policies, and approving upgrades to the district office’s exterior.
Then came the discussion of when the LDOE stipends would be issued that were authorized by the state earlier this year. The state has mandated that the stipends be distributed by May 2024. Some parishes plan to have theirs distributed this fall. However, due to a number of issues, Webster Parish will not be able to distribute the stipends that soon.
Finance Director Crevonne Odom was visibly emotional about the pressures her department is working under and the additional hurdles that are placed in their way. They are using an antiquated accounting system that they have been using for around 30 years. This system only allows one person at a time to work in it. This alone puts the accounting department in a constant time crunch. They are getting a new system, but the first phase of it, financial reporting, will not be live until April 2024, and the payroll phase will not be live until January 2025.
In the midst of the day-to-day routines of payroll, insurance, stipends, bills, etc., as well as needing a new accounts payable person, the finance department has been working nights and holidays just to stay caught up. Recently the board passed a measure to reinstate pay for those employees whose pay had been frozen years ago. The finance department is trying to get that done by the October payroll as well. Odom told the board that her plan is to have the stipends ready to be distributed by December 19.
“I’m going to do the best I can,” said Odom. “But I do need you guys to tell me what the priority is. Is the priority getting this extra $2,000 or $1,000 paid to them by December, or is it getting them paid on time on the 20th with their regular pay? Is it the subs getting their pay? Do we push back those extra stipends from meetings and let those wait so we can address the LDOE stipend? However you want me to do it.”
The board voted unanimously to have the stipends distributed by December 19. Teachers will be receiving their sales tax supplement on November 17 as well.
The maintenance fund expenditures were all passed unanimously without discussion.
The Webster Parish School Board typically meets on the first Monday of the month in the district office at 6 PM. The public is welcome to attend.