EPSB airs grievances over variety of issues
Discussions were filled with tension at the Evangeline Parish School Board meeting Wednesday evening, with concerns raised about the true cost of building projects, staffing issues, and missing text books.
School board member Mike Fontenot questioned purchases made, using bleachers at Pine Prairie as an example. He took issue with the cost of the foundation not being factored in with the bid for the bleachers. “We actually bid on projects that are not complete, and I want to make sure that’s not going to continue to happen,” he said. “We’re not presented accurate information.” He also used an example of a building to be used for concessions at Pine Prairie. “The board was never told we were looking to purchase a used building. I just want to make sure, going forward, when I’m asked to vote on something, that I’m voting on a complete project, and I have all the accurate information I need.”
Jason Hazelton, maintenance supervisor, said, “It depends on the project. As far as the bleachers go in Pine Prairie, all three contractors originally told me that they would only bid on the bleachers themselves, but that the customer was responsible for contracting out the foundation. That is for a couple of reasons. One company wanted to use a different gauge of steel than what another company wanted to use. One company requested that we do their structure under a certain foundation. Another company had different specs.” Hazelton said there was only one bid, and the company that won gave him the engineering drawings for the foundation/slab, so he had to contract that out, separately. “It wasn’t included at the initial onset of the contract because the contractors would not bid on the whole project to include the foundation,” he said.
Fontenot said the eventual added expenses to projects needs to be told to the board before they vote on whether to proceed with the project. He also reiterated his issue with the used building to be used for the concession stand. “I was never told that the building was a used building until we voted and made the payment on it. And you can’t put a set of bleachers up if you have no foundation. We were never told that the foundation was not included in that project.” Hazelton said, “Every single project I’ve ever done, 80%-90% of the time, you’re going to incur costs that were unforeseen. We do the best we can, based on the estimates given to us by the professionals we hire.”
Fontenot interrupted, saying, “At that point, whenever you present it to the board, do it as ‘does not include foundation.’”Hazelton said, “I agree with you, 100%.”
Fontenot added, “I’m not trying to be hard on you. I want to know that what I’m voting on is what I’m voting on. It just prevents any hardship from anybody later on, and it also is a much better way of doing business.” School board president Wayne Dardeau said the building in question in Pine Prairie was previously owned, but hardly used, if at all.
Additionally, Fontenot raised questions about staffing concerns. He said he received calls from several certified teachers who were pulled out of certified positions and put into positions where they were not certified. Superintendent Darwan Lazard said he was not familiar with the situation Fontenot was referencing. Lazard suggested there was a special circumstance. School board member Scott Limoges said the situation and the name of the teacher does not need to be discussed in front of people. Fontenot also said he was told positions were created and people from out of the parish were brought in to fill other positions, while employees who live in the parish are being overlooked. Lazard said, “We look for the person who is best suited for the position. We always give our consideration to anyone who might be interested in the position. There are so many factors that are involved when we’re trying to place folks.” Limoges said to Lazard, “You do the best you can with what you have to start and you make adjustments as the year progresses, and that’s all you can do. I’m not sure what’s going on, I don’t know what they’re talking about, but me, I’m in good hands with y’all. I trust what y’all are doing.”
In other action, school board member Wanda Skinner asked Johnny Deshotel, assistant principal at Basile High and text book coordinator for the district, if every student who needs a text book has a text book. Deshotel said, “There is no shortage of books, other than some biology books at Pine Prairie and Ville Platte High. We’re 47 books short. I’ve ordered at least three times. I don’t know why, but this particular text book is giving us trouble. It says they have the inventory, and then they send emails back saying they don’t have the inventory and they will refund us. It’s happened several times.”
Deshotel went on to say he found 30 books and placed an order. He hoped they will receive them. He said he contacted many book retailers, including Amazon, Louisiana School Book Supply, Follet, and Prentice Hall, which is the publisher of the book, but cannot find the books. “What I do is, every few days, I go in and check the inventories of some of these places to see if they have them.” He said he tries to get them for the lowest price he can. Giving an example of the radical price fluctuation, he said he found some family and consumer science text books on Amazon for $61 each. He could not purchase them at that moment, but went back less than half an hour later, and the price of the same book had changed to $10.14. He said the resources are online and the biology text books are a supplement. “I’m almost 50 years old, and when we were in school, text books were the thing, but in today’s world, students are used to not having the text books, because many, many things we do are online. They’re very used to that. They parents are not used to it, but the students are used to it. Everything they need to teach biology right now is online.”
Deshotel also said Anita West is trying to put a curriculum together to help the teachers. He said it takes a long time, and there is no guidance from the state other than what they can pull from those online resources. “The other parishes are using something different. “Eureka Math, you can call anybody, they’re going to know about Eureka Math, but call about science. Everybody’s using something different. The problem is, if we go and spend a lot of money on text books right now, with science and social studies, in two years or next year they may come back with a new curriculum and we’ll need to purchase new books.”
Skinner said, “I understand, but if we expect children to learn, we have to provide them with the tools.