The Morehouse Parish School Board met Tuesday, at the Student Services Center on Martin Luther King South. The meeting was technically two meetings, as the Board resumed the public meeting from May 3, that was recessed after the meeting began to get boisterous and out of control.
In the resumed portion of the meeting the Board voted to transfer $700,000 from a fund account dedicated to natural disasters, and $475,000 from the Sales Tax Fund, in order to cover the $1.2 million deficit caused by the reduction from the state in Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) money. This reduction was due to the loss of students in the school system. The MFP pays the school board for the number of students actually enrolled. That number has decreased, causing a matching decrease in state funding. In other business in the resumed meeting the Board voted to sell the Old Personnel Building on South Washington for $7,591.
After the May meeting was concluded the Board began it's June meeting. The full Board received recommendations from the Finance Committee, that met on May 31. Among these recommendations was the controversial closing of schools. The Board needed to take some drastic actions to allot for the loss of MFP funds, a decrease in funding that will carry over into the next fiscal year, and beyond. Numerous plans were considered at the May meeting, with the majority of the Committee voting to recommend what was termed "Compiled Consolidation Plan #5". This plan calls for the closure of Cherry Ridge Elementary and Oak Hill Elementary, with most of those students to be absorbed by Pine Grove Elementary and H.V. Adams Elementary. The plan reads as follows:
The following plan will become effective with the 2016-2017 school year: (1) All students currently zoned in the Pine Grove Elementary School zone and the Cherry Ridge Elementary School zone in grades Pre K-3 and those special education students attending school at CherryRidge Elementary School shall attend school at Pine Grove ElementarySchool, except those students hereinafter described who will attend Delta Junior High School. (2) Cherry Ridge Elementary School will be closed. (3) All students currently zoned in the H.V. Adams Elementary School zone and the Oak Hill Elementary School zone in grades Pre K-3 shall attend H.V.Adams Elementary School, except those students hereinafter described who will attend Delta Junior High School. (4) Oak Hill Elementary School will be closed. (5) All students in grades 4 –7 will attend Morehouse Junior High, except those students in grades 4 –7, hereinafter described who will attend Delta Junior High School. (6) All students grades 8 –12 will attend Bastrop High School, except those hereinafter described in grade 8 who will attend Delta Junior High School. (7) Staffing of all schools shall be the responsibility of the Superintendent. If positions such as assistant principal are believed to be required by the Superintendent at consolidated Pine Grove Elementary School and/or consolidated H.V. Adams Elementary School, the Superintendent shall select and fill those assistant principal or similar positions with up to one individual at each such school. (8) The Superintendent shall cause an appraisal of Cherry Ridge Elementary School and Oak Hill Elementary School to be accomplished and shall also cause a reappraisal of Southside Elementary School to be accomplished. (9) Notwithstanding the above consolidations and changes in school configurations, the Morehouse Magnet School will not change its enrollment policies and its K-8 configuration. (10) The following provisions shall be applicable to Delta Junior High School: a. The Magnet School program shall be terminated, but the school principal may continue to offer such subjects, as approved by the Superintendent,which were formerly offered as Magnet School classes. b. The following are the only students who may attend Delta Junior High School which will remain a K-8 school: 1. Those students whose parent or legal guardian resides in the Delta Junior High School attendance zone. 2. So long as transportation is paid for the East Morehouse Parish Tax for school bus mileage and drivers’ charges, any student who is currently enrolled at Delta Junior High School under the Magnet School program may attend until the student attends another school. 3. Any student who is enrolled at Delta Junior High School under a school choice program may continue to attend until the student enrolls in another school. c.The sum of $200,000.00 yearly shall be transferred from the East Morehouse Parish Tax to the Morehouse Parish School Board General Fund to partially off-set the salary and benefits of the following individual positions which would have been eliminated if grades 6, 7 and 8 had been eliminated from Delta Junior High School and transferred to Morehouse Junior High School: assistant principal, counselor, dean of students, coaching supplements and one physical education teacher salary. In addition, the transportation cost set forth in item 2. above shall be reimbursed to the Morehouse Parish School Board General Fund from the East Morehouse Parish Tax with an estimated amount of $107,000.00. (11) The estimated savings annually to the general fund is approximately $1,973,667.00 for this Compiled Consolidation Proposal.
Several concerned parents addressed the Board prior to the vote. Concerns included 4th and 5th grade students attending Morehouse Junior High with older students.
"We are talking about babies," one concerned parent said. "Please don't do this to these kids."
Superintendent Hazel Sellers and Board President Rick Hixon, assured the concerned parents that precautions will be taken to separate the younger students from the older ones.
"We essentially are going to have 2 separate schools on one piece of property," Hixon said.
Sellers added that 4th and 5th graders will be separated in the "Annex" with their own gym and lunch times, separate from the 6th and 7th grade students. An Assistant Principal will be in the Annex building with the 4th and 5th graders.
"We will have an elementary setting in the building," Sellers said.
Most of these same precautions will be taken at Bastrop High School, were 8th grade will be added to the campus. Discussion at the meeting included having 8th graders wear a different color uniform shirt from the 9th - 12th grade, so that it would be immediately obvious that they were indeed 8th graders.
Several parents were also concerned about special needs students that currently attend Cherry Ridge. Sellers explained that their school environment would be maintained as much as possible. With the classrooms they currently use being moved to the Pine Grove campus, and the teachers transferred as well.
Ms. Sellers also stated that the School Board would be hosting public meetings in the future with parents to discuss the concerns and plans to accommodate students in the needed consolidation.