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|Webber: 'It's been a great school year'|
As the 2008-09 school year winds down, one word could sum up the events for Ouachita Parish Schools, according to Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber.
"Blessed," Webber said. "We have been truly blessed. That really sums up how things have gone for us."
Webber is pleased with how students have performed throughout the school year, and he's encouraged by the efforts of the system's teachers to improve test scores.
"It's been a great school year," Webber said. "We are very proud of our school system. Our students continue to outperform most students, not just in Louisiana, but throughout the country."
"Our test scores were again among the top 10 in the state," he added.
Teachers also continue to excel in the parish school system. Roughly 99 percent of Ouachita Parish Schools' teachers are certified, and those that are not certified are working towards their certification, Webber said.
"I truly believe that Ouachita Parish has the finest public school system in the state," Webber continued. "I will put our students, teachers, administrators and support workers against any other system. I honestly believe our facilities are the best in the state, too.
"All of this is possible because of our local taxpayers and their support of our schools. The businesses, parents and all the support have been tremendous. All of that helps make us the best in the state.
"This year is pretty much the continuation of the proceeding years. We expect the best of our students and employees and they continue to deliver. God has blessed us tremendously in Ouachita Parish.
Webber also is excited about the financial situation of the school system. He commended the school system's business department for its work with the system's finances.
"We are recognized every year as one of the three or four top systems in the state as far as taking care of our financial obligations," Webber explained. "We face the same struggles as other systems will face over the next couple of years with funding from the state.
"But we don't plan to fire anyone. We hope we can cut our expenses, and in some cases that will mean cutting back on some of our programs, but we will withstand the next couple of years, and be fine.
"Financially, it will be a tough couple of years ahead of us, and we'll do the best with what we have. We are blessed to have a substantial fund balance for days like now."
The school system expects to have $16.1 million in its general fund at the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Regarding construction projects, construction coordinator Ken Slusher said a majority of the school system's projects are "up and going."
That sits well with Webber, too.
"We are in the final stages of our renovations parish-wide, and we think it has gone very well," Webber said. "Right now our construction bids are coming in very good because it's very competitive. We have some great construction companies in the area giving us outstanding bids."
The two major projects on tap this year include the construction of a new elementary school in Sterlington and a new middle school for Richwood.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held this week for the new Sterlington elementary school.
The school board also expects at its May meeting to officially request bids for the Richwood middle school project.
Both of those projects will cost roughly $13 million. The projects are being funded by a property tax extension approved by eastern Ouachita voters.
That property tax extension provided the school system with roughly $30 million for construction of the two new schools plus renovations at existing schools in eastern Ouachita.
The school system hopes to have both schools open by August 2010.