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Monday, June 15, 2020

A Difficult Decision

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Board votes to close three Caddo Parish schools

The Caddo Parish School Board voted 9-3 on June 9 to close three of its campuses: Arthur Circle Elementary, Jack P. Timmons Elementary and Mooretown Elementary.

As a result, Mooretown students will attend Oak Park Elementary starting this fall. Jack P. Timmons students will attend schools closer to their homes, including Blanchard Elementary, Donnie Bickham Middle, Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle and Turner Elementary/Middle.

 

 

Arthur Circle students will attend the renamed Broadmoor STEM Academy, a prekindergarten through eighth-grade campus housed at Broadmoor Middle. The Academy would provide increased student experiences in 21st-century technology demands and knowledge in the STEM/Cyber fields. It will be a partnership with the Cyber Innovation Center, Grambling and Louisiana Tech.

“The difficult decisions made by the board today are an effort to ensure the future viability of our district and support students and teachers with access to programs and facilities not available at smaller campuses,” Board President Mary Trammel said after the vote. “These decisions never get easier and come with an understandable outcry from our community. We recognize and acknowledge the effect our vote has on our parish, and such decisions are not made without great evaluation and contemplation.”

Dr. T. Lamar Goree, superintendent of Caddo Schools, said the district’s next steps include creation of the Broadmoor STEM Academy, engaging with parents and stakeholders to make them aware of the changes, and placing staff in their positions before the upcoming school year.

“Our work now moves to taking the board’s decision and making great opportunities for students and establishing strong academic programs to support each child’s academic needs,” Goree said.

Mary Wood, the district’s director of communications and strategic initiatives, said the formation of the Broadmoor STEM Academy met needs for both the district and the Broadmoor neighborhood.

“We felt the need to do right by our families and our communities,” Wood said. “Broadmoor was crying out for investment, especially in Broadmoor Middle School. This is a great way to innovate for the community and partner with these great organizations, with high expectations for excellence. The largest alumni bases here are Grambling and LaTech. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we utilize that and do what’s right for our kids?’” The discussion about closing the three schools began as the board addressed a $12 million budget shortfall caused by declining enrollment and cuts related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The board asked Goree to present viable proposals to address the shortfall, Wood said. The board specifically wanted to examine consolidations and closures, as well as ways to maximize current sales and property taxes.

“We had an obligation to be fiscally responsible and efficient,” Wood said before the June 9 school board meeting. That was already on the horizon. Essentially, our district was outperforming the budget. We knew roughly a year ago when we could see the true effects of many years of an aging population in our community, along with individuals leaving our community.”

In the past 10 years, the district’s student population has declined by 4,496 students, Wood said.

“That makes you take stock as a school system,” she said. “We know in Louisiana every student also has a financial allocation allotted to them. It also comes down to the community, the property taxes and sales taxes aligned with those people.”

“While the district has closed 17 campuses since 2000, these efforts have not kept pace with the outflux we have seen of our students,” Goree said. “Unfortunately, with fewer students to serve and a reduction in tax revenues, our board is faced with difficult decisions to be made in a short timeline.

“What is paramount in this discussion is providing the highest quality education for each child in the best learning environment. We cannot lose sight of the needs of our students, and we must use this trying time to be innovative and push for equity for the children we serve.”

The board discovered the district was outperforming its current budget prior to the coronavirus pandemic during budget work sessions for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The pandemic and the resulting sales tax losses during the stay-at-home orders compounded the budget issues, Wood said.

“By March, we were on track to make strong gains to work within the budget,” she said. “With pandemic, we made decisions like providing technology and food service that weren’t in the budget. Those commitments, along with the lost revenue, created a perfect storm for this fiscal year, which ends July 1.”

Wood said the district can achieve the desired budget cuts without losing current staff members with the closure of these three schools. The district will see a savings of $2.4 million realized through attrition.

Members also are evaluating additional options to increase revenue and cut costs including rolling forward tax rates and using reserve funds. These options come as district leadership has decreased expenses including a thorough review of all positions and ways to recognize savings without hurting the classroom.

“Our commitment is to the children we serve and ensuring we are doing everything we can to support them,” Goree said. “That commitment has not wavered and will not waver no matter how difficult our budget issues may be.”

Wood said district officials will work with the community, local government and area non-profits to determine a viable use for the facilities the district is closing.

“We will not leave eyesores in the community,” she said. “We know that blighted schools are the last thing folks want to see in their neighborhoods. We will work in the next 12 months to determine a plan, whether it is selling or a long-term agreement, or a green space in those areas. The community may come with ideas we haven’t thought of. We know we don’t know everything. We know it’s important to communicate.”

The Caddo Parish School Board will meet on June 16 at 3 p.m. to approve its 2020-2021 consolidated annual budget. The budget year for the board will run July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

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