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The Future of Harper Elementary: Move kindergarten and 1st grade to J.A. Phillips?

by Minden Press-Herald

The Webster Parish Schools buildings and maintenance committee is set to recommend to the full board next Monday that the kindergarten and first grade students at J.E. Harper Elementary School be moved to J.A. Phillips Middle School.

The recommendation will come with the stipulation that Harper not be left vacant.

The plan put on the table Monday during a special called meeting is to use $4 million from the District 6 half cent sales tax to construct two new wings, one at Webster Junior High School and one at Phillips. The new wing at WJHS will house the sixth grade students currently at Phillips and the other will house the increased influx of students coming from Harper.

However, there are still concerns in that $4 million is stretching what could be used for the project. Business and Finance Director Crevonne Odom was reluctant to say that $4 million is a good number, saying instead that $3 million or $3.5 million was a better number. This would leave funds for the rest of the schools in District 6, she says.

Board member John Madden cautioned board members that with the price tag of roughly $6 million, that number could increase as the project goes through to completion. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls told board members to keep in mind that everything changes once construction begins, especially changing a school to meet the needs of the incoming students.

“When you change grade configurations of a school, everything comes into play,” he said. “We have to check everything, and it has to be age appropriate. Everything we do at that school has to meet age appropriateness.”

Another concern is board member Brandon Edens had a problem with leaving Harper vacant or turning it into a magnet school, saying the parish couldn’t afford to start a new school. With all the talk of charter schools coming, he and others, he says, are fearful of a charter school buying the facility.

After discussion of possibly tearing down the alternative school and moving the technology center to the Harper site, he says he’s fine with the plan as long as the building isn’t left vacant. However, the idea of tearing down the alternative school and moving the technology center is not set in stone, and the expense to move the equipment that makes up the technology center could prove to be too expensive, they said.

Buster Flowers, maintenance and security supervisor, says the wings would have to be built in phases due to the fact that students will be in school during construction. Madden countered, saying the architect recommended construction on both sites be done simultaneously.

Also of concern is that Phillips is a transfer site, meaning kids are bussed to Phillips to catch another bus to their respective schools. Flowers says Phillips is the biggest “walk zone” in the district, saying more kids walk to the school to catch the bus than any other in the district. Having J.L. Jones as a designated transfer site has helped, he says, but it still doesn’t change what would have to take place to lessen the bus traffic as well as the foot traffic.

“That will remain,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We did a study and it would take 12 busses to stop all the walkers. That would also mean busses running double routes.”

The school board will meet at 6 p.m., Monday, June 29, at Central Office.

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