CLINTON — In his next-to-last meeting with the East Feliciana Parish School Board, departing Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. last week again urged board members to strongly consider further school consolidations to avoid future financial problems.
Lewis, elected in January to lead Orleans Parish schools, last year proposed closing the parish’s middle school in favor of having three elementary schools with kindergarten through sixth grade and a high school with seventh through 12th grades.
The board, however, voted against the proposed change in February.
The middle school, in Clinton, now has students in grades six, seven and eight, although Slaughter Elementary School also has a sixth grade.
“We’re at a point now that a tough decision must be made,” Lewis told the board March 3, acknowledging that closing a school is a “tough conversation.”
Tommy LeJeune, the board’s financial adviser, said the board faces the possibility of an $810,000 deficit during the fiscal year that begins July 1 because of declining sales tax revenues and an increase in the amount of money the district must allocate to its affiliated charter school in Slaughter.
Paul Kent, a Finance Committee member, said the deficit could be larger, depending on sales tax performance in the next year.
LeJeune and Lewis said the school system is operating with a breakeven budget in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“If we don’t do something differently, we’re saying we will be in deficit spending,” Lewis said, adding that East Feliciana does not have large enough reserves to cover overspending.
Closing the middle school would save on personnel and maintenance costs.
Lewis said the board will make the next superintendent’s job much easier if the funding issue is settled before his successor takes office.
“We need to find a million dollars so we don’t set ourselves up for failure,” he said.
A sticking point in the consolidation discussions is rooted in the long-standing rivalry between Clinton and Jackson, board members acknowledged last month.
Some board members feel the high school should be moved from Jackson if the middle school in Clinton is closed, while others contend the high school should remain in Jackson and Clinton Elementary should occupy the middle school site.