With the calendar’s turn to a new year, members of the St. Charles Parish School Board are looking forward to the advent and expansion of multiple programs to address the needs of their employees and students, while also preparing to take on the district’s most pressing challenges in 2020.
Among those challenges, addressing the rising cost of insurance was among some board members’ chief concerns.
“It’s gone up every year,” said District 1 representative Ellis Alexander, noting the board will be meeting to discuss that issue. “It’s getting out of hand and we’ve got to figure something out.”
District 7 representative Arthur Aucoin said he’s seen the rate rise consistently over the 10 years he’s served on the board, and said all options are being explored so the district can continue offering a strong benefits package to its employees.
“A large portion of our budget is salary, but insurance keeps eating up more and more of it,” Aucoin said. “We can’t control it. That’s the biggest challenge I see right now. We provide a great benefits package for our people, and we’re trying to keep the costs down for our employees over the long haul. We’ve got to be fiscally responsible as well.”
Jay Robichaux, District 6 representative, said a constant challenge comes in the form of an ever-shifting landscape of state and federally mandated guidelines.
“Our teachers do an amazing job everyday, but the state changes the rules in the middle of the game quite often,” Robichaux said. “The board has done a great job budgeting and planning our financial outlook through our long range plan, but our financial status could change at any time.”
School Board President and District 4 representative Sonny Savoie said maximizing the district’s resources to address its biggest needs is again one of the chief priorities. He noted a positive in the coming year will be the expansion of the district’s 4-year-old Pre-K program parish wide.
“Getting them in a lot earlier will be to their benefit and to ours as a community,” Savoie said. “What we’ve learned is that these kids who have come in who didn’t have the 4-year-old program were basically starting a year behind. We want them to be ready. The earlier you get them involved, the better you can address their needs and get them on their respective right path.”
Alexander and Robichaux each said they’re looking forward to 2020 being the first full year he and his fellow board members will work with Superintendent Dr. Ken Oertling, who took the helm of that role last summer.
“He’s got some new, fresh ideas,” Alexander said. “We’ve got a good relationship and I’m looking forward to working with him going forward.”
He said Oertling has made a priority of allocating resources “where they’re needed most.”
“I really appreciate that. It’s one thing I admire about him,” Alexander said. “He’s trying to make sure the people who really need these resources are addressed.”
Aucoin also noted the Pre-K expansion and additional mental health resources as positives for the coming year, as well as the continued utilization of the Lafon Performing Arts Center in maximizing the district’s benefit from the arts.
“We pride ourselves on being a Triple A school district between academics, athletics and the arts,” Aucoin said. “I think the center is going to be a continued boon in keeping us on the road of truly being a district that excels in each of those three areas.”
Savoie, who has been candid on his feelings that on a statewide and national scale, the teaching profession doesn’t garner the respect it should and did in years past, is pleased to see the advent of the Teacher Signing Day the district held recently and plans to continue each winter and spring semester.
“For us to recognize them for what they do and the importance their work carries, I think it’s a special thing,” Savoie said.