Harper, school resource officers top school board meeting

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An agreement between the Webster Parish School Board and the City of Minden as well as indecision on the situation with J.E. Harper Elementary School topped Monday’s school board meeting agenda.

Board members discussed the annual school resource officer agreement between the City of Minden and the school board after Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd and Mayor Carroll Breaux approached the board. They asked that they be included in that agreement, with the chief saying his SRO performs the same duties as the two that cover Minden schools.

“The north end of the parish also has an SRO officer, and if you’re going to pay for two officers in Minden, is it not right to pay for an SRO in Springhill?” Lynd asked board members. “Springhill also serves Sarepta, Cotton Valley and Shongaloo. We serve four communities.”

While the Springhill Police Department serves within the corporate limits of Springhill, their SRO officer protects students from these other three communities because they are bussed in to Springhill schools.

Mayor Carroll Breaux says the city pays roughly $59,000, including salary and benefits, for Officer Johnny Coleman, a 34-year veteran of the Springhill Police Department.

“I would respectfully ask that the City of Springhill be given due consideration, the same as you’ve given the City of Minden, if you agree to this cooperative endeavor agreement,” Breaux said.

Lynd says Coleman serves North Webster High School, Brown Middle School and goes to Sarepta when needed. He does fill in with the police department during the summer, the chief says.

Board member Jerry Lott says Lakeside and Doyline do not have SROs, so what’s to be done about them?

Business and Finance Director Crevonne Odom says the SROs are funded through the general fund.

On a motion made by Malachi Ridgel, seconded by Brandon Edens, it was decided to table the issue until the June 29 meeting.

Springhill will submit an agreement similar to Minden’s at the next meeting.

A recommendation still has not been made regarding Harper Elementary. Linda Kinsey, buildings and maintenance committee chair, says she wants to hear from the public as well on the recommendation that will be made. However, the one option discussed the most was to move the kindergarten and first grade students to J.A. Phillips Middle School and build a wing onto Webster Junior High School to house the sixth grade students.

According to figures discussed, it would cost roughly $6 million for this option rather than $25 million to combine E.S. Richardson and J.L. Jones Elementaries and build a new school.

Perry Watson, artchitect with Yeager, Watson and Associates Inc. suggested the first option would better meet the fire marshal’s requirements, saying so much room has to be allotted per student per square foot, plus the logistics seemed to work better.

“The information that was presented earlier centered around a common sense approach based on funding capabilities and chance of success at the polls,” he said. “We looked at the situation at Harper and the amount of work we would need to put into the school, along with additions, just didn’t make a whole lot of sense – because you would still have the same inherent problems. We looked at the possibilities of taking the populations and where would be the best place and how would it work the best financially?”
He says the pre-K/6 combination at Phillips seemed odd, and it seems to work putting the sixth grade with the seventh and eighth graders, citing the age proximity of the students.

Grant Schlueter, the school board’s bonding attorney, also spent a lengthy amount of time going through the bonding issues, boiling the issue down to this: The school board only has about $25 million left at their disposal in general obligation bonds in which to construct – whether it’s a new school or renovating an existing one.
The board is looking for an option that will be long-term and meet the needs of students for years to come before having to make decisions about the future.

Buster Flowers, transportation and school security supervisor, cautioned board members about spending all of the maintenance funds in each of the aforementioned school districts because equipment is either failing or aging. For instance, at J.L. Jones, the air conditioning and heating systems still work off of a chiller/boiler system, and it’s rusting out. Minden High School is looking at having to replace units there too, he says.

Board member Jerry Lott says it’s up to the buildings and maintenance committee to make a recommendation to the board as a whole so
the board can make a decision.

“I think it would be safe to say the Minden school board members would be supportive of what you all think would work,” he said. “I was kind of expecting a recommendation to come out of that committee, but apparently, we’re not that far off.”
Kinsey says Rawls said he was “fine” with whatever recommendation was made, but she wanted more community input.

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