School Board Approves New Staffing Levels, Bolton Advisory Board Process

By Jim Smilie

The Rapides Parish School Board approved new staffing levels for the 2023-2024 school year as well as the criteria for creating an advisory panel to study the creation of a pre-K to 12 academic and performing arts magnet school on the current Bolton High School campus during it’s regular April meeting Tuesday night.

Rapides Parish School Superintendent Jeff Powell told board members the goal of the advisory panel is to get a diverse group of individuals focused on the welfare of the students involved to help further discussions for the creation of a new program merging Bolton High School, Phoenix Magnet and Rapides Academy to be housed at the Bolton High campus.

Initial discussions included references to compiling a group of “random” individuals representing school administrators, teachers, parents and other stakeholders. Tuesday Powell offered a revised plan that incorporated a mixture of specific appointments with opportunities for others to be involved.

Specifically, Powell suggested two of the four slots assigned to administration representation go to the current principals of Bolton High School and Phoenix/Rapides Academy, while the other two slots would be open to other administrative representatives. Three of the four slots reserved for teachers would be assigned to current teachers of the year at the three target schools, with one slot open to another teacher. Three of the four slots reserved for parents would be assigned to the current heads of school PTO programs at the three affected schools with the final slot open to another parent. The final grouping, four community stakeholders, would have no appointed members and would be open to the application process.

“Using this methodology, half of the panel will be appointed as stakeholders who are engaged in this work daily and half will be randomly selected from those who apply,” Powell said. “They will have an opportunity to have meaningful conversations.”

The board unanimously approved the plan and Powell said a survey will be posted to the school board website starting Wednesday for people to apply to be part of the advisory group. The application process is scheduled to end April 28. Final selection of committee members is scheduled to be completed during the May school board meeting on May 2.

Powell stressed that those who are not selected to serve on the advisory panel are still welcome to attend the group’s meetings as well as school board meetings to share their thoughts. Panel meetings are scheduled for 3-4:30 p.m. May 9, May 23, June 6, June 20, July 11, July 25 and August 8 with a final report presented to the Education Committee on August 15.

The board also approved a staffing plan that will add 12 new teaching positions. Currently, the system employs 1,607 teachers. For the 2023-2024 school year that number will increase to 1,619. Powell said the staffing levels are based on prescribed student/teacher ratios, including lower student to teacher ratios at schools in the transformation zone working to improve overall student performance scores.

In addition to announcing the staffing plan, Powell offered an incentive and retention plan designed to attract teachers to three schools that historically struggle to attract and retain effective teachers. Powell referred to the plan as a “pilot program,” which will provide sign-on bonuses, attendance stipends and performance stipends for personnel at D.F. Huddle, Alexandria Middle Magnet and Horseshoe Elementary schools.

Under the plan, which was unanimously approved by the board members, certified teachers can get a $5,000 signing bonus at D.F. Huddle while non-certified teachers are eligible for a $3,000 signing bonus. To qualify, teachers must be hired by October 1, 2023, and stay through the end of the first semester to earn the first half of the bonus and stay for the full year to get the full signing bonus amount. Teachers joining the school for the second semester hired by February 1, 2024, who stay for the full second semester are eligible for a signing bonus as well, with $2,500 available for certified teachers and $1,500 for non-certified teachers.

Teachers at Huddle are also eligible for attendance and performance stipends, each valued at $1,000. A teacher who misses three days or less qualifies for the full $1,000 attendance stipend. A teacher who misses 4-7 days earns $500 while a teacher who misses 8-11 days can get $250. There is no attendance bonus for a teacher who misses 12 or more days.

For the performance bonus, a Student Performance Score improvement of 4.1 points or more earns the full $1,000 bonus. An improvement of 2.1-4 points earns $750 and an improvement of 0.1 to 2 points earns $500. Under the plan, a new certified teacher who stays for the full year and meets the top criteria for the attendance and performance bonuses can get an additional $7,000 above their regular salary while non-certified teachers have the opportunity to receive $5,000 above their regular salary. The principal and assistant principals are eligible for the attendance and performance stipends.

In addition, Huddle Elementary teachers will receive a new school laptop and a Fall and Spring Semester materials and supplies allocation of $1,000 per teacher.

Similar recruitment and retention plans will also be offered at Alexandria Middle Magnet School and Horseshoe Elementary. New certified teachers at those schools can receive a $3,000 signing bonus while non-certified teachers can receive a $2,000 signing bonus.

Current teachers at each school who score 2.5 or higher on their final evaluation for the 2022-2023 school year will be eligible for a $3,000 stipend. Current teachers who score between 1.5 and 2.4 on their final evaluation for the 2022-2023 school year will be eligible for a $2,000 stipend.

Powell explained funding for the recruitment and retention incentives at the three schools comes from ESSER and Title II funding sources.

In other action, the board:

  • Authorized issuance of $35 million in General Obligation School Bonds
  • Allocated premium from District 62 bond sales to district projects including $1 million each to Arthur Smith Middle Magnet, Alexandria Middle Magnet and Cherokee Elementary
  • Approved performance stipend payouts for Alma Redwine, Carter C. Raymond and Martin Park schools for meeting goals in the Transformation Zone program
  • Approved $1.96 million for a synthetic turf football field at Alexandria Senior High School
  • Approved advertising for bids for track renovations at Peabody Magnet High School
  • Approved advertising for bids for auditorium and stage renovations at Alexandria Senior High School
  • Approved plans to renovate the girl’s locker room and bleachers at Northwood High School as well as creation of plans for construction of a softball field house
  • Declared the North Bayou Rapides School property to be no longer needed for school purposes and to obtain an appraisal and advertise the sale of the property

The board also recognized a number of outstanding students including Plainview High School 2022-2023 Student of the Year Madelyn Thompson, Outstanding JAG students Cyira Barbay of Tioga Junior High School and Laynee Gibbs of Tioga High School, and members of the J.I. Barron archery team.

Also recognized were members of the Northwood High School girl’s and boy’s basketball teams, each of which won their respective state championship. “As best I can tell, this is the first time in Rapides Parish history that the boy’s and girl’s teams from the same school won the state championship in the same year,” Powell said.

The meeting concluded with board members going into executive session to get a report and discuss litigation filed by and against the Rapides Parish School Board. There were a total of 54 different suits listed on the agenda.