Now that a tax proposition to fund school facilities improvements is off the table, the Lafayette Parish School Board is exploring ways to save money by potentially consolidating existing programs and tapping into underused facilities throughout the district.
Plans are underway to rezone attendance districts, an initiative Superintendent Don Aguillard at a Tuesday executive board committee meeting said will save the school system a significant amount of money in transportation costs. But the changes will not happen until the 2017-18 school year.
“Soon may not be soon enough,” board member Erick Knezek said.
In the meantime, the school system needs to find about $20 million in savings amid more expected decreases in sales tax collections, Knezek said.
The three-member committee invited principals from the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center and N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy — the district’s two alternative sites — to review their school’s capacities and the programs offered at each in effort to find potential cost-saving measures.
N.P. Moss is the district’s site for students at risk of dropping out, whether because of behavioral problems, health issues or achievement barriers like young parenthood.
About 92 percent of the school’s students in 2014-15 were economically disadvantaged, according to the Louisiana Department of Education’s most recent report card for the school. About 21 percent of the school’s 325 students were taking special education classes, and 81 percent were overage students.
Along with rigorous behavioral intervention programs run by school system employees and AMIkids, operated by a Florida-based nonprofit, the site houses the district’s virtual learning program. Students take computer courses in place of a traditional classroom setting.
Along with overage N.P. Moss students working to get on track for graduation, about 1,200 high school students are enrolled in the program to either fast-track graduation or to improve their grade-point averages, Aguillard said.
N.P. Moss Principal Jodi Duhon said the virtual learning program is at capacity, as is AMIkids, which offers behavioral intervention instruction for students who have exhibited violent or aggressive behavior in their regular classroom settings.
AMIkids has a 30-student capacity — although 32 students are enrolled right now — and costs about $12,000 per child per school year, Aguillard said. The school system pays about $100,000 of the total expense, with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and Lafayette Consolidated Government contributing additional funds.
Aguillard said the program is working, as he’s seen only one expulsion this school year for a graduate of the program.
Duhon noted the program provides more structure than traditional schools.
“Some of our kids just flourish in our setting,” Duhon said.
Career Center Principal Alicia Caesar said her school has a capacity for almost 600 students but 468 are enrolled: 115 are high school students learning technical skills and 353 students are in the Exiting Pathways program working toward completing a high-school equivalency exam.
Aguillard said he plans to ask the board to move the latter group to the former LeRosen campus, which would free up additional space on the Career Center campus that’s already under-used.
“We think it’s a mismatch to have those 353 Exiting Pathways students mingled with our Career Center students,” Aguillard said.
Board member Dawn Morris said she wants to explore how the Career Center can take on more students in its unused spaces, perhaps by consolidating districtwide health programs at the campus or adding high-school level immersion courses.
Aguillard said he’s been reviewing the technical coursework offered throughout the district in effort to find ways to increase recruitment and to ensure the courses offered will lead to high-wage jobs.
Although almost 700 students expressed interest in enrolling in the coursework because of Jump Start, a state initiative that offers specialty diplomas for students who receive industrial training, fewer than 200 actually enrolled, Caesar said.
“We have to find a way to improve those number of students who are choosing those pathways,” Aguillard said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.