The Ouachita Parish School Board voted earlier this week to spend $2 million in federal funds for a new multi-purpose building at Richwood High School.
Ouachita Parish Superintendent Don Coker informed the School Board on Tuesday that the multi-purpose building was expected to house the high school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and feature some meeting rooms as well.
“There is nowhere really at Richwood that people can come through the front of the school and immediately get into another gathering area,” Coker said. “This is going to meet the needs that the students and parents might have there.”
Bids for construction were expected to be advertised within the next 30 days. The School Board planned to pay for the project through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
The School Board also voted to seek bids to build pavilions at Robinson Elementary in Monroe, Richwood High School and Sterlington High School. The School Board allocated $1.2 million in ESSER funds toward this project. According to Coker, all other high schools already have pavilions outside their eating areas. The School Board allocated $400,000 for each pavilion.
West Monroe High School was expected to receive a new security system, thanks to the School Board’s allocation of $400,000 in West Side Sales Tax funds.
“West Monroe High School is unlike any of our other high schools in the fact that it’s located in town,” Coker said. “West Ouachita, Ouachita, Richwood and Sterlington are all out in the country, but we have a lot of foot traffic through West Monroe High School’s campus. This new system is going to re-enforce security.”
Meanwhile, the School Board voted to give a one-time payment of $2,000 to regular full-time employees and long-term substitute employees.
According to Regina Mekus, director of business for the School Board, these employees were expected to receive a $2,000 check on Oct. 7. The School Board planned to pay for the one-time payments through ESSER funds.
School Board member Harold McCoy suggested the one-time payment, which was labelled as a “recruiting and retention supplement,” should be used as an incentive. McCoy said he was concerned about the possibility of substitute employees receiving the one-time payment and leaving the school system shortly after.
McCoy suggested that the one-time payment be made with a stipulation — If employees remained employed by the school until a certain date, they would get to keep the payment; if they left before that date, they would have to pay it back.
Clint Miller, the School Board’s director of information technology, said employees were informed of the one-time payment several months ago and were told that if they were still employed as of Sept. 6, they would receive the payment. Miller said this served as a retention incentive.
Coker said the payment also indicated the School Board’s gratitude for their employees’ hard work.
“We have loyal employees. They work so hard, not because we’re going to give them a $2,000 bonus, but because they are loyal to the children and the schools that they’re working in,” Coker said. “I would hate to start prorating and breaking things out just based on this one-time check.”
On another front, the School Board voted to approve new policies for all schools.
Changes to the employee and student dress codes included the prohibition of “discrimination based on natural, protective or cultural hairstyles.” The policy defined cultural hairstyles as “afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance.”
The School Board decided to table the decision on a proposed policy which would require every elementary and high school to install a program to prohibit and prevent bullying.
Several other new policies were not approved at the meeting but were expected to be presented for approval at the School Board’s next meeting in October.
For example, School Board members are considering the “program of choice” policy, which would allow students to transfer schools based on programs offered or based on school performance scores. If a student chose to transfer based on programs offered by another school, the school they currently attend must not offer the same program and the school they want to transfer to must have available space for the student.
Another policy currently being considered would allow for retired school employees to be rehired during critical shortages. The new policy would allow these employees to be hired without suspension of benefits and without certifying the existence of a critical shortage.