Avoyelles School Board rejects proposal to enroll online students

Superintendent: Homeschool academy offer ‘not in best interests’ of district

Upon further review, a proposal to “enroll” 300 online homeschool students in Avoyelles Parish public schools is not as good an idea as it initially seemed, Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told the Avoyelles Parish School Board at the Aug. 6 board meeting.

Dauzat told board members he had spoken to “ a few other superintendents and I am recommending we do not enter into an agreement with Grade Results.”

Dauzat would not elaborate publicly on the change of position since the Executive Committee considered the Grade Results/Great Teachers Academy offer on July 16. Comments at that meeting indicated support for the proposal. At the committee meeting, Dauzat commented that the offer to “share” 300 high-performing middle and high school students “almost seems too good to be true.”

Asked after the Aug. 6 board meeting about that comment, Dauzat only said, “It was. All I can say is that upon further review, the proposal is not in the best interests of the school system.”

“All that glitters is not gold,” Board President Lynn Deloach added.

ABOUT THE PROPOSAL

Under the now-rejected proposal, the School District would have received state Minimum Foundation Program funds for the 300 students. The School Board would have been obligated to give $4,000 per student of that MFP allocation to Grade Results.

The 300 students would come from across the state and probably never set foot on the APSD school campus where they would have been enrolled.

Grade Results representative Chris Lee said this kind of arrangement is “absolutely legal” and has been in place in other school districts and public charter schools for 17 years.

He said state law allows a public school district or charter school to accept students “from anywhere in the state if they are taught in a virtual environment. If the student is attending a brick-and-mortar school, they must reside in the parish and attend the school for which they are zoned.”

The proposal would have netted the district at least $750,000 for the 300 virtual students.

At the July 16 committee meeting, Dauzat told board members the district has been in a “budget struggle” with increasing costs, declining enrollment and less revenue to operate the school system.

He said the Grade Results proposal was a possible new source of revenue.

$2 MILLION DEFICIT

With that revenue source no longer in consideration, board members are facing a 2019-20 budget deficit of approximately $2 million.

Dauzat said that over the past several years, the anticipated deficits presented prior to the start of the budget year have been able to be significantly reduced.

In fact, the school system ended the previous fiscal year with a budget surplus that allowed the board to give employees a one-time salary supplement.

In other years, the dark clouds of a major deficit ended up being almost wiped away or easily addressed by dipping slightly into the accumulated Reserve Fund.

Dauzat said he expects the $2 million deficit to shrink somewhat, but believes it will still be around $1.5 million.

“That is almost entirely due to the opening of a new school in the parish,” he added.

Dauzat was referring to Red River Charter Academy, an independent public middle school with an expected enrollment of almost 200.

RRCA was approved by the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education this past December and will open in the former Mansura High/Middle School on Aug. 20. As a Type II charter school, RRCA will receive the MFP allocation for students enrolled in that school.

Most of those would have been enrolled in the six APSD elementary schools, for 6th grade, or one of the three traditional high schools for grades 7 and 8.

LaSAS is also a charter school and receives the MFP for its students.

RRCA Executive Director Stephanie Moreau said the school has also enrolled students who attended parochial schools or who went to public schools in other parishes this past school year.

RRCA will add a high school grade each school year until it is a grade 6-12 school.

The board will review the 2019-20 budget over the next few weeks and is expected to adopt it at its Sept. 3 meeting. Deadline for adopting the budget is Sept. 15.

In another matter that has been debated over the past several months, the board hired appraiser Mike Bordelon to conduct a new appraisal of the 153 camp sites on six 16th Section tracts to determine whether lease prices should be adjusted.

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