Decrease in enrollment affects UP School Board budget

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The Union Parish School Board met Thursday for its regular session and approved several important resolutions.

The first order of business was election of a President and Vice President. Mrs. Shannon Barkley of District 5 was voted President and Mr. Clyde Hays of District 9 was voted Vice President by unanimous decision.

The Board also adopted a resolution to sell the old Farmerville High School property containing 12.88 acres together with all buildings and improvements to Union Growth and Development Foundation, Inc. The Foundation had the highest bid at $133,150. The resolution also authorized President Shannon J. Barkley to execute a Deed Without Warranty and any other documents necessary for the purpose of the sale. The contract allows the Union Parish School Board to retain one half of the mineral rights on the property.

Financial statements for September, October, November and December were approved after a lengthy discussion on the need to make budget revisions due to a drop in enrollments for the 2020-2021 school year. The loss of 64 students resulted in a decrease of approximately $100,000 per month. “We actually estimated a decrease of about 50 students when preparing this year’s budget, but will have to look at further budget revisions to meet the underestimation,” said Superintendent, Kristy Fine. Union Parish, like many public school systems throughout the state, has seen a decrease in enrollments. “Unfortunately we lose students for a variety of reasons from transferring to a charter to moving out of state. Our hope is to increase student enrollment over time as we make necessary changes to improve the public’s perspective of our system,” said Fine. “Union Parish has some very good things going on within our walls and hope to see improvements in student achievement.”

During the Superintendent’s report, Fine reported that those working in the education environment would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the Tier 2 release.

Definite plans, dates or timelines were not released, however, districts were tasked with getting an accurate count of those wishing to participate. “Union Parish Schools, Downsville Community Charter and Union Christian Academy have reported their numbers,” said Fine. “About 62 percent of our employees would like to receive the vaccine when it becomes available. Others are waiting to receive more information from research over the next few months to a year.”

Finally, the board discussed the bus driver shortage crisis that is affecting not only Union Parish but also school districts all across the United States. “The Union Parish School District is feeling the crunch of a nationwide shortage of available bus drivers,” Fine said. During normal years districts have to call upon retired drivers to fill vacancies and absences. “We are blessed to have a pool of retirees from which to draw. All of our bus routes are filled at the present time but we are always in need of substitute drivers,” said Fine. The district will be publicizing and advertising substitute driver positions. “We would like the community to help spread the word,” said Fine. The district is sending a staff member to complete bus driver training certification so that drivers and those wishing to substitute can be trained and certified in house. A new driver training is tentatively set for March or April. Those interested in attending should contact Dr. Robby Lindsay, Union Parish Transportation Supervisor to find out more information.

The next regular School Board Meeting will be Monday, February 8 at 6 p.m.