ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish School Board gave employees a pay boost and offered incentives for professional development during a three-hour meeting April 20.

The board accepted Superintendent Hollis Milton’s recommendation of paying employees an extra $500 on May 13 as a reward for the extra work required to keep schools open and functioning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The gesture follows a February decision to give employees a $1,200 “13th check” as a similar incentive.

Milton said it was not easy to convince employees to come back to school in August for in-school instruction after the state shut down classrooms in March 2020. The extra work involves providing a safe environment for students, including those who opted for virtual learning programs but must return to schools for state-mandated testing, he said.

The payments will come from federal funds the parish will receive through the American Rescue Plan.

The board also agreed to resume paying $5,000 annual stipends to teachers who complete a rigorous two-year program to earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The state began paying board-certified teachers extra money more than 10 years ago but discontinued the stipends in 2012, Milton said. At the time, West Feliciana decided to continue paying 17 teachers who had earned the recognition but not pay newly certified teachers.

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Six of the 17 are still employed, personnel director Beverly Grant said.

Milton said the stipends are designed to keep top-ranked teachers in the classroom who might otherwise seek additional pay by seeking administrative jobs.

Board members also recognized four outstanding students:

  • Mathilde Fox-Smith, student of the year for the 12th grade, who also is one of 16,000 out of 1.5 million students across the nation who became a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. She has been accepted as one of 1,900 members of Harvard University’s fall freshman class. “Harvard is fortunate to have Mathilde,” Milton said.
  • Thomas Temple, eighth grade student of the year. He has earned all A’s on his report card since sixth grade, while having perfect attendance and playing several sports.
  • Kaitlyn Whitaker, fifth grade student of the year, described as being self-motivated and strives for perfection in every endeavor
  • Cha’Darius Williams, whose eighth grade creative writing project that explained his failing eighth grade last year was “the best thing that happened in my life.” He said he grew up “in the street life” but turned his life around in his second attempt at the eighth grade.

On another matter, Milton announced that his negotiations with board President Milton Coats and Vice President Kelly O’Brien resulted in a new proposed contract that will be on the agenda for the board’s May meeting. The only change in the proposal is to extend his contract by a year, the maximum time the current board can approve.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved an additional $196,006 in costs for the high school renovation project, resulting from unforeseen but required design and materials changes.
  • Agreed to advertise a notice that members may vote to increase their pay from $350 to $550 per month. The pay was cut by $200 in 1992 when the board faced a financial crisis and has remained that amount for 29 years. Milton said a $200 raise would move members’ pay from 66th to 64th out of 69 school districts, based on 2013 data that he said may be out of date. Another $100 increase would raise them to 47th in the state. Sarah Wilson-Rogers, who proposed the increase in November, voted against having a public hearing on the matter.
  • Approved a $1,215,000 contract with Artificial Turf Solutions for installing an artificial playing surface at the high school football stadium. The board accepted the bid on April 14. Work is scheduled to begin May 17, after high school graduation ceremonies are held in the stadium.
  • Called an Oct. 9 election on renewing a half-cent sales tax.
  • Honored West Feliciana Hospital Director Lee Chastant for assisting the school system in vaccinating 75% of its employees with the coronavirus vaccine, a record for the state.