Good news may not be good enough for Avoyelles schools

Superintendent tells School Board Increase in state MFP funds may not offset projected enrollment drop

Although there has been some good financial news for the Avoyelles Parish School District coming from the Legislature, there are still rough times ahead, Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told the School Board at its June 4 meeting.

Dauzat said the approval of $1,000 raises for teachers and $500 raises for support personnel are needed and deserved. However, he noted, those raises will not improve Avoyelles’ competitiveness for teachers.

He said Avoyelles is 70th out of 70 public school districts in what it pays its teachers.

“We will still be 70th,” he added.

Another piece of good news was the Legislature’s decision to increase Minimum Foundation Program funding to public schools.

If enrollment stays the same, the district would probably have a surplus due to that increase, Dauzat said.

However, the district would normally project about 100 students less next year -- which has been the trend in the past few years.

If that was the case, “we would just about break even,” Dauzat said.

With the opening of a new charter school in 2019-20, the district could be facing the loss of an additional 100-150 students who choose to attend that independent public school.

Under that scenario the district could be facing a $2 million deficit requiring the board “to look at drastic measures” to reduce costs.

INSURANCE CHANGE

In another matter, the board chose to pull out of the Property Casualty Alliance of Louisiana risk management program. It chose Liberty Mutual to provide that insurance coverage, beginning July 1. The cost to renew coverage with PCAL would be $380,365. The premium with Liberty Mutual is $258,592.

PCAL is a cooperative group of school districts which “share risk” in the hopes of obtaining lower long-range insurance costs.

Insurance consultant Scott Fazzio said the board’s largest insurance obligation was its auto and liability coverage with PCAL.

Last year the board paid $367,767 to PCAL. This year the amount would have been $380,365 to renew.

The reason was not an increase in claims or in the number of buses, but due to a per-employee rate increase due to an overall increase in claims costs.

In effect, Fazzio said, Avoyelles was being asked to pay more to offset increases in claims of other PCAL members.

While that is the philosophy behind risk management groups like PCAL, Fazzio said recent trends indicate it “may not be the best fit” for Avoyelles Parish now.

BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE

The board adopted the Bus Committee recommendations to address a shortage of bus drivers and substitute drivers.

One recommendation is to pay all training and certification costs for new drivers. Another is to increase substitute drivers’ pay.

Due to the four-day school week, which reduces the number of days and thus increases the per-route amount for drivers, the per-route payment for substitutes will be $40 per route.

The committee delayed endorsing the hiring of 10 bus aides and transferring the five Majority-to-Minority program drivers from substitutes to full-time permanent drivers because those two actions are more expensive.

At its May 21 meeting, the Bus Committee discussed all four recommendations of a special study committee before choosing the two less expensive to present to the board for immediate approval.

The School Board had set aside those recommendations earlier this year before the parochial and charter schools had made a decision on whether their students would be riding APSD buses.

“No one will be using our buses but us,” Dauzat said.

Avoyelles Public Charter will retain a five-day school week but implement a “year-round” or “balanced” school calendar that is significantly different from the four-day week calendar the School Board will have this school year.

APCS will establish bus stops around the parish where a bus will pick up and drop off students. Red River Charter will use a four-day week but a different calendar. It will also have its own buses to transport its estimated first-year enrollment of 160 students in grades 6-8. Parochial schools will have a five-day school week and will not utilize APSD buses.

Dauzat said it cost the school district more to transport Avoyelles Charter students than the school paid the district for that transportation service.

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