desks school stock classroom

NEW ROADS — School leaders in Pointe Coupee Parish tonight will consider again whether to close at least two schools and shorten the school week to four days, amid efforts to avoid a $1.5 million budget shortfall.

The school board held off taking any action on the proposals at its Jan. 23 meeting amid a groundswell of opposition from parents, teachers and community leaders.

Among the proposals the board will revisit at Tuesday night's meeting:

  • closing Upper Pointe Coupee and Close Rougon elementary schools
  • expanding Livonia High School to cover 6th through 12th grades
  • moving an alternative learning program to the Rosenwald Elementary campus.

While speaking before the board last month, more than 20 people criticized the potential school closure, including a teacher who questioned whether the school system will be taken over by the state if the district can't solve its financial problems.

"What happens when we run out of money," asked Shay Chauvin, a special education teacher at Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary. "Does the state department take our schools? Do we stop getting paychecks? Do I have to start bringing my own toilet paper?"

The board tabled the proposal at its last meeting, effectively holding off taking any action.

The district is running on a nearly $1 million budget deficit this year that's expected to swell to more than $1.5 million next year if it doesn't cut costs and find ways to raise more money. 

The school system suffered a more than $1.7 million loss in state payments from the Minimum Foundation Program, which calculates the minimum cost it takes to educate a student and is based on district enrollment.

A recent state audit cited low enrollment and increases in local tax revenue for the decline in state money.

With the lost tax revenue following the closure of a barge operator and rising costs to transport students, the district needs to raise more money while making cuts to balance its budget.

School leaders are also considering a 9-mill hike to boost teacher salaries and pay for transporting kids, which accounts for the district's second-highest expense.

The largest proposed change would involve cutting classes to four times per week, but that discussion was largely overshadowed by proposals to close schools at last month's meeting.

Schools that use shorter weeks often have longer school days to meet state instruction time requirements.

Supporters of the shortened school weeks say it can help shed costs for busing students, especially in sprawling rural areas. National studies on academic impact have shown mixed results, and in some cases, no difference in outcome with a shortened week.

School officials will meet on Feb. 12 to finalize how they plan to seek a tax hike that would appear on the May 9 ballot.

Tonight's meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the school board office in New Roads.

Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.