CLINTON — The East Feliciana Parish School Board members who begin new terms in January may have to decide to close a school because of declining enrollment and the board’s obligation to fund a charter school in Slaughter.
Seven incumbent members were re-elected, four without opposition, during qualifying for the Nov. 4 primary election, and four new members also won seats on the 12-member board.
A runoff between incumbent Michael Bradford and former member Chris Rouchon is set Dec. 6 to fill the District 6-3 seat.
The board is at a breakeven point in the current fiscal year, but the cost of supporting the district-affiliated charter school is anticipated to increase by more than $800,000 in the next two years, board financial adviser Tommy LeJeune said.
Slaughter Community Charter School began operating under an agreement with the board and the state in fall 2011 with grades 7 and 8, then added a grade each succeeding school year. The school will have its first senior class next school year.
LeJeune estimates the charter school will have an enrollment of 265 students on Feb. 1. State Minimum Foundation Program funds are allocated to the school through the School Board.
While the school’s enrollment has grown with the addition of each year, enrollments are declining in all but one of the parish’s five traditional public schools.
LeJeune said the parish is essentially “dropping students while adding a new school.”
East Feliciana Middle School is expected to have 279 students on Feb. 1, down from the 383 counted on Feb. 1, 2012, according to figures LeJeune presented to the board Wednesday.
Clinton Elementary’s enrollment will drop from 403 to 313 in the same period, LeJeune estimated.
The district will need to make operational changes for the 2015-16 school year to maintain a positive financial outlook, LeJeune said.
“We’re going to have to do something,” he said.
“We’ve got to make some tough choices,” said Bradford, the board’s president.
Superintendent Henderson Lewis said he may have recommendations ready by the end of the month, but he told members they should be ready to make decisions in January or February.
In recent years, the board has consolidated its two high schools and two middle schools. The system also has elementary schools in Clinton, Jackson and Slaughter.
Lewis said the board’s options may involve centralizing the parish’s students, limiting the number of facilities it uses and getting the maximum amount of use from the Jackson School Complex, which lost its middle school component to consolidation.
“This will be some hard conversations, regardless of the area you represent. You have to look at the big picture,” Lewis told board members.
“We’re going to have to look at what’s best for our students,” he said.
Members returning to the board are Melvin Hollins, Broderick Brooks, Mitch Harrell, Beth Dawson, Rhonda Matthews, Richard Terrell and Paul Kent. They will be joined by former member J. Curtis Jelks, Derald Spears Sr., Joyce Kent and Tim Corcoran.
Spears defeated incumbent Olivia Harris on Tuesday, and Kent ousted incumbent Debra Spurlock Haynes. Corcoran replaces Ben Cupit, who has not been attending recent board meetings.
Hollins defeated incumbent Rufus Nesbitt in the primary election after the board’s redistricting plan put them into the same district. Nesbitt, who voted against the plan, said he was unaware that he was in another district until he went to qualify for re-election.