By Cyndi Sellers
The Cameron Parish School Board adopted its 2021-22 budget on Monday, making no changes from the original draft presented last month. The budget for next year is projected to show a $5.7 million deficit, leaving $27.3 million in the general fund. Revenues of $36,446,305 will be offset by expenditures of $42,144,175. The general fund balance has been steadily declining for years, at a rate of about $6 million or more per year. At the current rate, without changes, in just over four years the School Board will be out of funds.
Adjustments to the 2020-21 final budget yielded a deficit of only $600,000, but that number is deceiving since it includes $10 million in insurance payments for hurricane damage and a $1 million increase in tax revenue. All that insurance money and more will be spent in the coming year on repairs, and FEMA is notoriously slow to repay entities for their covered expenditures.
District Attorney Tom Barett, who handles matters relating to 16th Section lands owned by the School Board, asked for a committee to be appointed to advise on issues relating to 16th sections located within wildlife refuges. The Board appointed Marsha Trahan, Sheila Miller, and Joe Delcambre.
No new bids were advertised nor contracts awarded for school repair projects, but the South Cameron Playground bid was due to be advertised this week. Project Manager James Hoffpauir reported that the Grand Lake softball field pavilion cover is repairable and is safe to use at this time. Other projects are in the design phase and will be advertised as soon as that work is complete.
The Board approved the Virtual Learning Policy outlined last month. Supt. Charley Lemons said, “Virtual learning was a flop for 95 percent of students. It didn’t work as intended, but we had to do what we had to do. Programs don’t teach kids. Teachers teach kids.”
This year, the policy requires a doctor’s excuse to participate in virtual learning. “For Johnnie or Suzie to stay home just because they don’t want to go to school just won’t work,” Lemons said. Joe Delcambre said under virtual learning students were “taken out of an initiative-fueled environment” with parents having to work, and they had a hard time succeeding. Marsha Trahan said the hurricanes kept more kids in virtual learning than they would have had otherwise.
One thing the past year made clear was that the schools need to change the job descriptions of computer lab managers. Schools no longer have “computer labs” where students go to use a set number of computers. Instead, every student has a Chromebook, and every teacher has a laptop. Smart boards are in many classrooms.
Lemons asked the Board to change the job title from Computer Lab Manger to Technology Integration Specialist, with additional duties including handling all the equipment and training others to train teachers in new programs and equipment. Supervisor Stephanie Rogers said, “We need to keep evolving, get streamlined in technology. We don’t have a tech department to handle these things.” The change, with commensurate $4,000 per year raise in salary, was approved.
For the teachers present at the meeting, Lemons clarified the language in a required policy change on student discipline. An email had circulated suggesting that teachers would not be able to administer discipline in their classes, but Lemons said it was a misunderstanding. Teachers will certainly still be able to discipline students. The policy also allows other employees to do so, he said.