Months after first considering the idea, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted Thursday to move ahead with plans to spend as much as $6.2 million to replace temporary classrooms and make other improvements at Riveroaks and Wedgewood elementary schools in 2016.
Also Thursday, the board hired a Dallas-based online education company, for a cost of no more than $360,000 a year, to help kids who have dropped out or who are in danger of dropping out get a diploma. This item also was first proposed months ago.
A few board members sought to siphon some of the money allotted for Riveroaks and Wedgewood elementaries to help pay for a new school in the area that would be in the proposed city of St. George.
School Board member Barbara Freiberg made, but later withdrew, a motion to make some improvements at Riveroaks and Wedgewood but not replace all the temporary classrooms at the two schools. If it had passed, Freiberg’s motion would have left as much as $2.6 million available for other uses. She noted that the plans are part of a 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008.
“I think the tax plan was done six or seven years ago, and I think needs have changed,” Freiberg said.
The vote to proceed passed 7-0 with two board members abstaining, Freiberg and Jill Dyason. Board member Connie Bernard, who had seconded Freiberg’s later withdrawn motion, was not in the room at the time of the vote. Board member Craig Freeman was absent.
Board members Vereta Lee, Mary Lynch and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith all said the improvements are necessary and overdue.
“We need to spend the money where the children are,” Nelson-Smith said.
“It doesn’t make sense to fight over things that we know need to happen,” Lee said.
“Our paralysis of analysis is not helping our children,” Lynch said.
Wedgewood is getting a six-classroom addition, with an overall project budget of about $2.2 million. Riveroaks is getting an eight-classroom addition, with an overall project budget of about $4 million.
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said the new classrooms will, in most cases, just replace classrooms already at the schools.
“We’re not appreciably increasing capacity, just one or two classrooms,” Fletcher said.
Dyason had suggested delaying construction so the board can hold a workshop in January to examine construction needs across the parish.
In the matter of the dropout recovery and prevention service, board members in September put off signing with for-profit Grade Results, saying they had a lot of questions, including whether the company is the best option out there.
Superintendent Bernard Taylor subsequently sought proposals, and by early November, seven came back. After two rounds of vetting by teams of educators serving as reviewers, Grade Results’ proposal received the highest scores.
The board voted 10-0 Thursday in favor of hiring Grade Results; Freeman was absent.
Students old enough to be seniors but well short on needed credits are eligible, as well as students who have dropped out. They would take Internet-based coursework as an alternative route to a diploma.
A total of 57 dropouts have expressed interest, and there are hundreds of students in house who would qualify. The up-front cost of the plan will be offset over time via state funding the school system would receive every time a dropout goes back on the enrollment rolls.
In late September, the school system conducted a blitz to recruit potential students for the prospective program.
The original plan was to get the program ahead of Oct. 1, the day that one of two official enrollment counts for Louisiana public schools are taken. The plan now is to have it running by January, ahead of Feb. 1, the second official enrollment snapshot.
The initiative is called “Moving Forward.” Students would come to school for half-days and take tests in school under a teacher’s supervision but could do the bulk of their work online, outside of school any time of the day.