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Schools begin looking at second bond issue

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Benton High schematic rendering (courtesy graphic)

The Bossier School Board is in the very early stages of investigating the need for another bond measure to fund school construction, technology upgrades, and teacher salaries.

Voters approved a $212 million construction bond program in April 2012 to alleviate overcrowding throughout the school district due to unprecedented growth.

“We have to start discussing it,” said Superintendent Scott Smith. “It’s very informal right now. The school board is just in the beginning stages, very informal of what we’re going to have to look at.”

The reason why the school system is entertaining the idea is, as Smith pointed out, Bossier Parish is expected to grow by 11,000 residents in the next five years.

“That’s a considerable number,” he said. “Nobody though we would grow as fast as we have.”

“Nobody has a crystal ball. When the 2012 bond construction program was approved, no one could envision the growth we would incur.

Growth is a good problem to have, with the Bossier school district being the second fastest growing in the state and the fastest growing in the north, but it’s a problem nonetheless. The district is expected to grow by 500 students for the 2018-19 school year alone.

“That’s like growing a brand new elementary school. And we had the same thing happen last year,” Smith previously told the Press-Tribune. “We’re dealing with our growth, but we’re close to the end of our 10-year bond construction program.”

Word was circulating through the community that the new $45.5 million Benton High School currently under construction would be at capacity when it opens next fall.

Smith said that wasn’t true, although it is the fastest growing district in the parish.

He also noted that Haughton is the second fastest growing district, and although the new Haughton Middle School opened last fall and the former middle school was renovated to become a K-5 elementary school, there is more need in that area.

“We’re okay for the short term but we have to look at long term,” he said. “We have to be proactive and not reactive.”

The administration is also concerned about attracting and retaining quality teachers. This means competitive salaries.

“We know pay is what attracts teachers and working conditions are what keeps them,” Smith said.

He noted that perfect attendance will be rewarded with a $200 stipend for teachers and $100 for support employees for each month from Sept. 1 through May. Teachers and staff will also receive a $725 “welcome back” stipend, and a $600 bonus for professionals and $350 bonus for support employees in late fall/early December. The school’s budget also contains enough funds for one-time pay supplement of $1,200 for professionals and $700 for support staff.

But he knows that these incentives also paper over the fact that Bossier teachers are paid less than surrounding areas.

“Our teachers are paid $6,500 less per year than in Desoto Parish. We’re going to start losing our best to the areas around us if we don’t get competitive with our salaries,” Smith said.

The other challenge is keeping up with technology.

The district has tripled the number of devices used by students over the past three years. But even though it’s less costly and more effective, those devices require maintenance, which is “taxing on the technology department to keep up with.”

He said technology is a key for learning, and it’s a priority to ensure students have the very best available to them.

“Bossier is fast becoming a technology hub. We have to make sure we’re staying atop of this and giving our kids the very best materials for education, and sometimes it comes with a price tag,” Smith said.

He was quick to note that Bossier Schools is “doing great” and that the district would stay at that level and be competitive, but these challenges needed to be addressed.

“We’re an A district and we have to operate like one. We’ve shown we’re very judicious with our money. We’re saving money as much as possible, but we have these needs,” Smith added.