By Cyndi Sellers
The Cameron Parish School Board is “still trucking along” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, School Superintendent Charley Lemons reported at the Board’s meeting on Monday. While still waiting for clear direction from the State Superintendent, a COVID Education Task Force, consisting of the Superintendent, school administrators and selected teachers, is making plans for virtual learning and for a modified schedule. Final plans will depend on the state’s entry into Phase 3 re-opening and what that will look like.
Most Cameron Parish schools should not have a problem with re-opening school in the fall, he said, but there could be difficulty at Grand Lake, which has the largest school population in the parish. “If we can go back to school face-to-face we will, even if Grand Lake needs to go to modified. Only the schools that need it will go on modified schedule,” he said.
The Board took action to pay support workers overtime for the hours they put in during the COVID-19 school closure. In the weeks after the schools were closed all school employees were still being paid their regular salary, but in an effort to provide meals for children who depend on school breakfasts and lunches, support staff came back to work to prepare and deliver meals, and to clean and sanitize the buildings.
The Board expressed its gratitude for the hard work put in by these employees. In some parishes, workers refused to come back in to work, and other methods had to be sought.
The overtime pay only applies to non-exempt staff, generally hourly workers, not salaried teachers or administrators who work on contract and are not eligible for overtime. The expense of the overtime pay will be offset by the lack of substitute teacher pay while schools were closed, with no impact on the annual budget.
In an effort to encourage teachers to seek post-graduate education, thereby improving the quality of education in Cameron Parish, the Board approved increasing the demand stipend for Masters Degree in education from $300 to $2000 annually. Supt. Lemons said this amount is comparable to the surrounding area. Thirty-three teachers are currently eligible for this stipend, but any who obtain their Masters’ degree in the future will qualify.
The first draft of the 2020-21 budget was reviewed. It projects a loss of $7.4 million next year, but that is more than $500,000 less than in previous years. Accountant Michelle Trahan said ad valorem tax revenues are expected to be higher next year, and although some expenses are also up the income increase will outweigh the higher expenses. Teachers were given a $1000 raise by the state legislature and the School Board set aside the CWIP legal settlement for extra pay.
Trahan said the federal government has reimbursed the School Board over $100,000 for expenses incurred with the temporary school meals program, which covered the cost of food purchased for the meal delivery program and more.
Millage rates for next year will be set at the July 13 meeting. It will be two months later than usual, but the Assessor’s report had just arrived, and rates cannot be set without the estimate of next year’s revenue, Trahan said.
A change order was approved for the Hackberry High School Phase II renovation project, adding 45 days due to COVID-19 and additional plumbing work. The plumbing work, repair of rusted out and collapsed iron drains in the old school building, will cost an additional $30,862, funded by FEMA. The new estimated completion date is Nov. 8, but the contractor has assured that the gym will be ready for graduation in July.
The School Board entered into a contract for pre-construction services with The Lemoine Company, in reference to the new Hackberry High School project.
New electronic signs ordered for Johnson Bayou and South Cameron High Schools were not installed because the connections were improperly aligned. The situation is being corrected and installation should be soon, Lemons said.
In executive session, the Board conducted the annual evaluation of the School Superintendent. Upon returning, the Board issued a statement congratulating Mr. Lemons on an outstanding evaluation and thanking him for “the great work” he has done.