School Board votes to close Milesville building, relocate employees
LAPLACE — The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board voted Thursday night to relocate all Milesville employees and close the building.
The decision came amid cost-saving discussions to alleviate overspending within the School District. Vacating the Milesville building would allow for an immediate cost savings of $11,502.59 with more savings to come with the sale of the building and the accompanying land, according to Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin.
In accordance with this vote, Milesville employees will be relocated within the District by the start of the next school year. Hookfin said this decision does not eliminate Milesville staff or reduce services for students with disabilities.
Dr. Stacey Spies, director of special education for St. John Parish Public Schools, attended Thursday’s School Board meeting at LaPlace Elementary to share the importance of the Milesville site.
Spies said Milesville has been a familiar institution in the St. John Parish community for more than 35 years, and money has been spent over the years to make the facility handicap accessible for children with special needs.
According to Spies, the Special Education Department has a responsibility to identify exceptionalities and disabilities and provide services for families. She noted that the Milesville facility is used for confidential screening services at least 10 times a month.
“We are a support service center for the district. I am not aware of any other district that does not have a support service center for its students,” Spies said. “I understand that we are under financial constraints and that we need to make decisions, but why is the first decision about closing Milesville? When we start talking about equity, what about the students with exceptionalities and their needs? Since there is no plan to relocate Milesville (employees), how do we even know if we are going to be able to provide the same types of services with what’s available?”
Spies added, “Ideally, if we are relocated, we should be relocated as a unit so we can continue to serve the students of this parish. We function as a unit.”
Hookfin said Spies’ request to keep the Milesville group in tact will be taken into consideration.
“It would be great if the group could stay intact, but if not, please understand that office spaces will be provided with the intentions of providing an area for the special education department,” she said.
Local special education teacher Tyler Lewis affirmed the need for a solid plan regarding the relocation of Milesville employees, with input from the public and special education staff.
School Board member Keith Jones said the decision to close Milesville would be premature without a prospective buyer or at least an appraisal of the land, which has not been performed.
Several School Board members said the Milesville property would be considered prime real estate because of its location on River Road.
“If you want to save the district some money, that’s fine, but we don’t have a plan. I think this is a little premature,” Jones said. “We have at least six different surplus properties. If we relocate, we’re going to have a building just sitting there that we still have to maintain. I just think that a better plan needs to be in place.”
Hookfin cautioned the School Board against putting the decision on hold because the budget deficit needs to be addressed immediately.
“We need to apply and qualify for a loan, and we need to put a plan in place that says we are doing what it takes to pay the money back if given an opportunity to receive the loan. A written plan has to be submitted,” Hookfin said. “If we do not make decisions and put the decisions that have been made on paper, we won’t qualify for the loan.”
School Board member Debbie Schum said closing Milesville is an important first step in resolving the School District’s financial outlook.
“We have to start somewhere, and I would rather start with a building than with people,” Schum said.
A substitute motion to table the Milesville decision saw support from Keith Jones, Shawn Wallace, Ali Burl III and Clarence Triche.
Debbie Schum, Nia Mitchell, Charo Holden, Gerald Keller, Sherry Defrancesch, Patrick Sanders and Phillip Johnson voted against tabling the item, causing the substitute motion to fail.
The School Board then voted on the original motion to relocate Milesville employees and close the building. The motion passed 8-3, with only Burl, Jones and Wallace voting in opposition.
Additional cost-savings ideas for the district, which may involve consolidating school sites and reducing staff, will be discussed at a School Board Workshop on April 27. The time and location will be announced, and the public and employees are welcome to attend and share their cost-saving ideas.
The next St. John School Board meeting will be held on April 29.
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