LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board approved the purchase of five new buses Wednesday as a way to take older buses off the road and help alleviate overcrowding on some vehicles, particularly in the southern part of the parish.
In a 6-3 vote, the board approved the expense of $381,260 for five diesel buses. Voting against were Rae Trahan, Tehmi Chassion and Mark Babineaux with members Greg Awbrey, Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle and Shelton Cobb voting for the purchase.
In addition to overcrowding on some vehicles, the new vehicles are needed to replace an aging fleet, said Damon Evans, transportation director.
Prior to the vote, Trahan suggested the board table the decision until its special meeting on the budget planned for Sept. 11 to see if the district can afford the expense.
Cobb, however, asked the board not to wait and told them that it was time to get “these raggedy buses” off the road.
“If we’re thinking about our kids first we should do (it) for their safety at least,” Cobb said.
Superintendent Pat Cooper said the new vehicles also are needed to help balance out bus routes where there are too many students on some buses.
“It’s about safety and convenience for our students,” Cooper said. “The last thing I heard, in the Youngsville area, we had students sitting in the aisle because we don’t have enough buses on routes.”
Evans said there is overcrowding and “we’re trying to resolve that right now.”
Trahan, a former bus driver, criticized the transportation department for allowing students to stand in aisles or sit on the floor on the buses. She said buses should make a secondary load rather than overcrowd a bus.
“It’s disappointing to me that our transportation department is doing that in Youngsville or anywhere else in the district,” Trahan said.
Preliminary enrollment counts taken last week show the district gained about 400 students compared with the state’s last count in February 2014 taken in the last school year. The preliminary count from last week showed 30,467 students enrolled in Lafayette Parish schools.
With the additional buses and routes, more drivers are needed in the district, and it’s been hard to find them because the board currently requires drivers to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate in addition to a commercial driver’s license, assistant transportation director Brad Duhon said.
He asked the board to consider a policy revision to relax the educational requirement for drivers or follow other districts that hire drivers without a high school education as substitutes until they earn a GED.
The policy revision was on the board’s agenda as an introductory item and it will be on the board’s action agenda at its next meeting on Sept. 17.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, instructional supervisors made another attempt to win board approval to purchase instructional materials and textbooks they say are needed to ensure student lessons are aligned with new learning standards.
School started on Aug. 12 and staff requests to purchase the materials began in May — before the last school year ended. The board tabled prior decisions on the purchase request for its budget review process.
During its review of the general fund budget this summer, the board removed funding for the materials, but set aside $2.5 million in its rainy day fund to cover the expenses. Since the board set the money aside, staff members have made multiple requests to use the funds to purchase the materials.
At a board meeting last month, staff submitted a request to purchase about $2.9 million in materials; however, Trahan told the board that staff needs to justify selections of certain textbooks. At the time, Trahan said she also was concerned that the amount exceeds the $2.5 million that the board set aside.
Assistant superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau told the board Wednesday that staff reviewed its request and revised the list of materials to nearly $2.4 million.
Teachers need the materials to adequately prepare students whose performance is tied to teachers’ pay, Billeaudeau reminded the board.
Earlier in the meeting, the board received a report on the performance pay schedule for teachers in line with Act 1, a state law that made several changes to state education policy, including incentive pay for teachers based on their performance. Teacher evaluations now include student performance data. In Lafayette Parish, teachers could receive a pay boost of $275 to $1,000, depending on a teacher’s evaluation rating and if they teach in a high-demand area, such as special education or at a low-performing school.
“I’m going to beg wholeheartedly again that we please take the recommendations of staff … s o their pay performance is not impacted,” Billeaudeau told the board.
The request was on the board’s introductory agenda Wednesday and an effort to speed up a vote on the purchase failed in a 4-5 vote, so the issue will return to the board at its Sept. 17 meeting. Board members Angelle, Bouillion, Cobb and Cockerham voted in favor of taking action on the request Wednesday. Board members Awbrey, Babineaux, Beasley, Trahan and Chassion voted against.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.