School Board meets to address hurricane recovery

By Cyndi Sellers

The Cameron Parish School Board met Monday, Nov. 9, at Grand Lake High School, working to address hurricane recovery and other matters. One of the most pressing issues was how to make up the missed classroom days from Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Supt. Charley Lemons said that while the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) may grant a waiver for the lost time in January or February, the most important issue for parents and teachers is making up the missed material. With students out of class for eight months due to COVID-19 and the storms, the children need to be in school, he said.

Grand Lake schools have 39 days to make up, while the other three schools have 36-37 days. Two options were presented to the Board. Option 1 would move Grand Lake to a 4-day, 465 minute per day schedule to match the other three schools in the parish. Option 2 would move all schools to a 5-day, 443-minute schedule. With both options, virtual remediation during all upcoming school holidays would be added. The only other options were to continue as is until sometime in July or add two hours to each school day just to get the material covered.

Board members voted to adopt Option 2, which allows students to get out of school 20 minutes earlier. Lemons stressed that this option is not an attempt to make all schools go to a permanent 5-day schedule. “We know parents like the 4-day schedule, but we didn’t order two hurricanes or COVID-19,” he said. Marsha Trahan, who represents Johnson Bayou, one of the 4-days schools, said the majority of the parents she has spoken with want their kids to make up the learning.

Lemons also said he and the school administrators, staff and teachers are working diligently to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to avoid the school closures that have occurred in other parishes. The vote was unanimous, with two members absent, Telesha Bertrand and Randall Faulk. The new calendar takes effect Nov. 30.

Completing those virtual assignments will be possible wherever students spend their holidays, thanks to a $50,000 grant from Cheniere LNG which is providing internet hotspots for each family. Cheniere representative
Amy Miller, in making the presentation, said, “Cameron Parish has been through a terrible time in 2020. As a graduate of Cameron Parish schools, I am happy to be able to bring some help at this time.”

Construction and Recovery

Project Manager James Hoffpauir reported that fully opening Hackberry High School and re-opening South Cameron High School is still likely around Dec. 1. These re-openings are “doable” unless some surprises turn up, he said. Hurricane Delta caused delays in repairs at SCHS. Utilities had to be completely started over, electricity had to be re-done and a second generator wired in, in case the first one goes off-line.

“There are no words to describe what’s been done here,” said board member Joe Delcambre. “We’ve had COVID, two hurricanes, virtual learning, and now we are back to school.”

Hoffpauir recommended that the Board approve an amendment to the remediation contract with Hurriclean for additional damages at SCHS. He said the original estimate of $2.5 million will be short by another $1.5 million. The addition includes providing an entry staircase and running generators for many weeks. Even though a skeleton crew is at the site now, costs are still $24,000 a day.

Insurance is covering the remediation expenses. The Board has nearly burned through the initial $5 million insurance advance, and consultant Nancy Sylvester says she will be requesting a second advance of between $5 and $10 million next week, when all estimates are received. Board accountant Michelle Trahan said last month’s recovery costs of $3.5 million were largely covered by insurance.

Dirt work is set to begin at the new Hackberry High School site next week, following a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. The Phase 1 work package was approved Monday, at a cost of $1,378,011. At the old school, a roofing restoration project was awarded to the low bidder, Daughdrill General Contracting and Roofing, for $840,720. The Hackberry HVAC restoration project bids will be received Nov. 30.

Superintendent Contract

After an executive session, the Board voted to renew the contract of Supt. Charley Lemons until 2024, pending legal approval. Joe Delcambre cast the lone nay vote to Sheila Miller’s motion.