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|OPSB, state at odds over building insurance|
Between 60 and 65 employees of the Ouachita Parish School System may have nowhere to work unless the School Board can resolve an impasse over a cooperative endeavor agreement with the state.
At its regular meeting Thursday night, the board deadlocked 3-3 on approval of an agreement for the continued use of a state-owned building at 800 Claiborne Street in West Monroe.
For as long as anyone can remember, the School Board has housed the employees of its Student Support Services Department in a building at 800 Claiborne Street. The building is owned by the state and the School Board pays the insurance.
The Ouachita Parish School System has long had an agreement with the state for use of the building rent-free, with the school system paying for property insurance as well as for maintenance. That agreement was not renewed several years ago, possibly because of confusion and turnover at the state level during the last change of administrations.
The state recently discovered the omission. Board Attorney Elmer Noah and Business Manager Juanita Duke have been negotiating a new cooperative endeavor agreement with the state since then.
The proposed new cooperative endeavor agreement presented to the board at Thursday's meeting would continue the allow use of the building rent-free for the next five years. However, new state regulations require that the building be insured under the Louisiana Self-Insured Fund. The State Department of Education would bill the parish system for the cost of that insurance.
Therein lies the problem for the School Board.
In the past, the system has paid roughly $1,200 a year for property insurance, with a high deductible and no flood insurance. The new required coverage through the state's self-insurance fund would total $22,252 a year.
Several board members balked, saying the insurance cost is essentially another unfunded mandate at a time when stagnant state funding and economic conditions have already forced the school district to make painful cuts.
School Board members Bill Norris, Scott Robinson, and Red Sims voted against the agreement. Susan Spence, John Russell and Carey Walker each voted in favor of the new cooperative endeavor agreement.
But Board President Jerry Hicks was absent from the meeting Thursday. His absence resulted in the 3-3 deadlock, meaning that no action was taken.
Webber said he believes the board will re-visit the matter at its next meeting in two weeks, and Duke said she will resume negotiations with state officials.
But she said the insurance is apparently a non-negotiable issue.
Meanwhile, if the School Board and the state can't come to equitable terms, Student Support Services will need a new home.
Webber said he's not sure where the department could be housed.
"I just don't know," Webber said. "We do have at least 60 employees there, and that space is pretty valuable. It would be very difficult to find room in our current buildings. We may need these temporary buildings we've been talking about selling if we can't get in there."