EPSB executive committee discusses CARES funding
The executive committee of the Evangeline Parish School Board met Wednesday where it discussed the CARES Act grant awarded to Evangeline Parish schools and Sacred Heart, a proposed legislative bill dealing with local sales taxes. They also heard about an oil lease for land owned by the school board, and employee vacation days.
The school district received a grant from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security) Act. It comes from money allocated to Louisiana, as negotiated by Governor Edwards and President Trump and their administrations. School Board Superintendent Darwan Lazard said the amount is over $2 million.
CFO Amy LaFleur said the district’s share of the grant comes from the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) fund. Federal funding through the ESSER portion of the Coronavirus Relief Fund intends to make learning more accessible to students with disabilities, at-risk populations, language needs, and other challenges.
The grant from ESSER will allocate $2,793,516 to the district. LaFleur said some of the requirements include connectivity, safety, “and having everything a child would need in a pandemic environment.” She said, should the need arise, they will have devices and connectivity to teach children. Assuming children are back in school for regular session, they will have proper sanitization with face masks, temperature monitoring systems and hand sanitizers. Also, each child would have their own required reading material instead of sharing books. She said there is also a mental health component for employees and children, where a survey could be implemented, asking them, for example, how the pandemic affected them and if they are feeling mentally healthy enough to return. If they answer no, they would be directed to a school counselor or a psychiatrist.
Sacred Heart gets a portion of the funds, but LaFleur said it is not certain how much yet, depending on how a school gets money from Title I vs. Title II. She said until the U.S. Department of Education gives the district strict guidance, they are factoring on giving Sacred Heart more money rather than less to help plan the budget.
As far as safety measures go, LaFleur said they are looking at devices children can walk through which would detect the thermal image of the body. If the thermal image reads hot, the child would be pulled aside and have their temperature checked.
In other business, Lazard explained there was a bill in the regular legislative session in Baton Rouge. That bill proposed taking the collection of sales taxes from each parish and bringing it to a state collection entity. “Basically in our parish, you have the sales tax commissioner. In St. Landry and some of the other parishes, the school boards collect all of the sales taxes from the parish and they distribute them,” said Lazard. “That bill failed in the regular session, but 15 minutes after the regular session ended, they started a special session. Unfortunately, a group of legislators have come up with the same bill again. They are trying to win a few more votes on their side.”
Lazard said the LSBA (Louisiana School Boards Association) is against this particular piece of legislation. They’ve also asked that board members would contact members of the parish’s delegation to Baton Rouge. “For us, it would be Senator Cloud, Representative Butler, and Representative Deville. The LSBA is asking that we would contact those people and send them a copy of this resolution if the full school board approves it so this will not happen. That’s LSBA’s request and recommendation, to not change the collection of sales taxes to make it centralized in Baton Rouge.” The executive committee agreed to endorse a resolution to keep sales taxes local. It will next be voted on by the full board.
Additionally, the committee discussed some Section 16 land in two areas of the parish; one is in the Chicot area, and one is in the Mamou area. Lazard said from time to time they sell timber. They were approached by a company that wants to explore for oil and agreed to lease the land for exploration. LaFleur said because of the downturn of oil in the economy, they have been released from the lease, but they are still very interested. When there is an upswing, they will reach back out to the board to re-lease the land.
In other action, the committee voted to extend the deadline for use of vacation days by employees. Lazard said they were off for about two-and-a-half months or so because of COVID-19, and employees did not have a chance to spend all of their vacation days. “I’d hate for them to lose a whole bunch of days because of a pandemic that nobody asked for.” The committee voted to allow Lazard to extend the window at his discretion and judgement.
The committee changed the charge for making copies for the public to match what other governmental bodies are charging, which is between $1.00 and $1.25 per page. The committee agreed to the rate of $1.25 per page.
The committee also voted to move flag lines and majorettes into the same funding category as dance lines because they perform same as band and dance line.