Possible mold, unkept yards and nonworking cafeteria air conditioners.
All were subjects of sometimes heated conversations from School Board members at their regular June 16 meeting.
Led by School Board President Fred Butcher, members quizzed Superintendent Toyua Watson about conditions of the parish’s public school campuses.
Building and Grounds committee members recently toured Ferriday High School campus and inspected its dilapidated football stadium press box.
During a tour of Vidalia Lower, Building and Grounds committee member Raymond Riley said he spotted what seemed to be mold near a pre-K room and doors that would not lock.
According to Butcher, principals, not committee members, should be the ones responsible for creating a work list of campus needs.
“I appreciate all the time the Building and Grounds committee put in to this,” Butcher said. “But, I have said this 100 times and will say it 101 times, all of these things that were being brought forth is the principal’s responsibility. A principal should take the time to walk their building and make a list of everything that needs to be done and report it to Mr. Henderson. If Mr. Henderson doesn’t get it done, go to the superintendent. I don’t think building and grounds (committee) should have to go to every school and find all the things that are wrong, and we are paying the principal out there. We got a principal, assistant principal and an administrative assistant out there. That don’t make no sense. We got three out there, and they should at least be able to put together a work list. If they can’t do that, they don’t need to be there.”
Butcher went on to say “some of these campuses look horrible” and “if the riding mower doesn’t get it, it don’t get done. That’s the bottom line.”
Watson defended her staff, saying they have been working this summer on items around the parish.
“With principals, we got some work to do,” Watson said. “We got to get our buildings up to date. I am not going to sit here and say it is. But, there is a lot of work being done that you do not see. We have worked on things this summer that has been neglected for years. We are working in schools, and we are having those difficult conversations. But, this stuff didn’t start in 2021 or 2020 school year.”
Work orders taking too long to be completed were also a concern with some School Board members.
Watson blamed COVID-19 and other sickness for some of the delay in completing tasks.
“I stand in agreement that it takes too long,” Watson said. “This month will be the first month in the 2022 school that we have had a full staff. Somebody has to sit back and notice that. Our people get COVID, too. Our people get sick too. All I am asking is for some grace.”
According to Butcher, he recognized Watson’s crew was understaffed and recommended farming the work out.
“If you don’t have the staff to do it, it’s like everything else,” Butcher said. “You go out and get two quotes and address it.”
Earlier in the conversation, the need for cafeteria air conditioning units was brought up.
Many parish cafeterias are in need of air conditioning, according to School Board member Derrick Carson.
There are new air conditioners being kept in a warehouse, but crew members are waiting for specialized vents.
“The air conditioners have been in a warehouse for almost two years,” Watson said. “It was tabled because it was put in with the ESSER activation project. I was under the impression we were going to meet with Mr. Marco and make that a priority instead of waiting to move with everything else.”
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) is part of the American Rescue Plan, providing public school districts a total of $122 billion.
“I hate that it has went on that long, but it has just been brought to my attention,” Watson said. “I wasn’t privy to the purchase of them two years that why they have been sitting there.”
According to Watson, the air conditioners would be installed before the start of the year, and the installation was in the budget.
Ferriday High School’s press box will also receive a new PA system, air conditioning and carpentry work.
Along with redoing the press box, Riley also recommended renovating FHS concession stands.
Meanwhile, School Board members are upgrading security measures for parish schools.
Watson told School Board members a presentation was being prepared by her staff on new safety measures. The presentation will be presented in the July meeting.
“With everything going on, it reminded us to take a step back and look at safety,” said Watson.
Watson’s staff is currently working on Concordia Parish school’s first safety audit which is a 10 to 11 pages detailing safety measures.
“What the audit does is gives us an opportunity to take everything that is a problem and put it in one place and develop a plan,” Watson said.
Watson will give recommendations on security cameras, metal detectors and a resource officer contract from Ferriday and Vidalia Police Departments.
During the meeting, School Board members also approved a contract renewal for resource officers from Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office. They have officers in three schools.
“All 11 schools need (a security resource officer),” said School Board member Lisette Forman. “Yes, that is a lot of money, but I can’t put a price tag on our kids.”
While talking to CPSO, Watson said she also discussed the See Something, Say Something Initiative, where children are able to, behind the scenes, tell if something is amiss.
“This is really not on safety but more so on well being of our minds,” Watson said. “What if we did a screening on all our children to see about some of there wellbeing. Are you stressed? Do you think about hurting yourself? Do you think about these things? Sometimes we don’t know to act on these things until it happens.”
Additionally, School Board members approved a measure to pay teachers twice a month instead of monthly.
Teachers will now be paid on the 15th and last Friday of each month.