“The St. Mary Parish Virtual Educational Program will enable students to take courses from a location outside of the traditional classroom and connect to a virtual class with 24-hour access,” Superintendent Dr. Don Aguillard told school board members Thursday during their monthly meeting.
He said certified teachers will teach courses with parents serving as facilitators.
Curriculum will consist of courses centered on keeping students on track to earn a high school diploma, Aguillard said.
Scheduled courses will include English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as well as a limited number of electives.
Aguillard said the student bears no cost for the program and funding would be derived from the state funding mechanisms.
“The district is prepared to assist families with computer access if the need exists,” he said. Students would have the option to acquire a desktop computer through a distribution process similar to that of textbooks.
“We are going to launch this virtual academy next year without any additional cost to the school board,” he said.
He said he expects enrollment to be light initially but to “grow exponentially as more and more home school students come back to the system.”
Bringing those students back will bring more Minimum Foundation Program dollars from the state into the system, he added.
The superintendent noted that the level of funds from the state program has been frozen for the past four years leaving the local school district to bear more and more of the cost of education.
With added costs for the teacher retirement program, stipends for nationally certified teachers and non-public school transportation shifted from the state to the local district since the beginning of the 2010 school year, more local dollars would be lost in the next school year due to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed voucher system. Those “hits” to the local district amounted to $2.6 million in 2010, $4.4 million in 2011, and are projected to total almost $5.8 million in the 2012-2013 school year, Aguillard said.
Jindal has proposed expanding the voucher program that would allow lower income families with kids in failing or low-performing public schools to send those children to approved private schools using taxpayer dollars. The legislation would also apply to students attending the math and science academy or receiving educational services in the juvenile justice system.
Approval of the proposal would mean the MFP dollars would follow the student out of the public school system, he said.
“Those dollars will be the responsibility of the local school district,” he said. “Over the past two years and including the upcoming … school year, we’ll have had $12.8 million fewer dollars to educate the children of St. Mary Parish.”
“This is $12.8 million in additional costs that local taxpayers are having to absorb to keep the educational system afloat,” said board member Michael Taylor. “We’re just fortunate that we’ve had some good years and were able to set aside enough to be able to do this, but I don’t know how long this parish and all the rest of the parishes will be able to do this in the coming years.”
In other business the board:
—Authorized Aguillard and legal counsel to negotiate the sale of the vacated Thomas Gibbs school building in Glencoe. Sale of the property has been advertised five times without successful outcome.
—Approved improvements to the library at Patterson Junior High at a cost of $18,000 and the purchase of shelving and library furniture purchases at a cost of $96,658.
—Approved expansion of the Teacher Incentive Fund program to include J.B. Maitland Elementary in Morgan City.
—Approved the renewal of insurance coverage policies on building and contents, boiler and machinery and workers compensation. Also approved was the retention of the a third party, Claims Administrative Services Inc., to administer the worker’s compensation program.
—Appointed Kimberly Philbrook as guidance counselor at Morgan City High School.
—Heard from Cypress Sawmill Festival queens Skyla Webster and Rachel Lemoine who invited board members to their banquet March 17, and festival March March 30-April 1.