School panel plans to renew program for at-risk students

After nearly cutting the program earlier this year, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is seeking to renew its annual $400,000 contract with a nonprofit company that works with at-risk students.

The School Board, meeting as a committee on Thursday, forwarded the item to its regular meeting on Dec. 20 for final action. The contract covers the 2012-13 school year, which ends in May.

Board member Jerry Arbour said he wants more of an explanation of what the money will be spent on and how it relates to past spending with the organization.

“I just think this is a very significant amount of money,” Arbour said.

Orlando Ramos, associate superintendent of the office of innovation and reform, said City Year, for the same price as in the past, has agreed to increase the number of its staff working in Baton Rouge schools from 40 to 62. Ramos said City Year members are producing results.

“Of the students they have tutored, 60 to 80 percent have shown significant academic achievement,” Ramos said.

Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said the cost works out to about $6,000 per City Year member.

“If you were thinking about having to hire someone to do that, that would cost you a lot more than that,” Rutledge said.

City Year brings 17 to 24-year-old AmeriCorps members to work primarily in schools with the goal of preventing school children from falling through the cracks. In Baton Rouge, City Year is working in four schools: Merrydale Elementary, Broadmoor and Capitol middle schools, and Belaire High.

At all but Merrydale Elementary, City Year employees are participating in a dropout program called Diplomas Now, a national group operating in 12 states.

City Year came to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has remained at the district since then.

The school system included the City Year contract in a list of potential budget cuts this past spring but opted in the end to keep the program.

Also on Thursday, the School Board forwarded to the Dec. 20 board meeting, without recommendation, two contracts with Mercer, a consulting firm that has long monitored employee health insurance for the school system.

Both contracts cost $25,000 and, if approved, both would be handled by Mimi Ferrell, a principal with Mercer’s Health and Benefits division.

One involves monitoring prescription drug coverage and is a proposed renewal of an existing contract.

The other, which generated the bulk of discussion Thursday, calls for modeling the costs and requirements the school system will face as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

Sometimes called Obamacare, the 2010 federal law has many provisions that are going into effect over time. One provision for large employers is the “employer mandate,” which requires the district to automatically enroll on its health insurance plans employees who work 30 to 40 hours a week.

Ferrell told the School Board Thursday that the changes are expected to increase medical coverage spending by employers from 2 to 7 percent depending on the employer.

“I think it’s very necessary work,” said board member Connie Bernard. “And who better to do it than the actuary who’s already doing the work for us.”

Arbour said he’d prefer seeking bids first to see who else could do the work.

Rutledge said since the school system is already a client, Mercer’s $25,000 fee for the modeling is a discounted rate compared to what the firm would charge other clients.

Also on Thursday, the School Board unanimously recommended teaming up with BREC for a new after-school program called Youth 360, a program to benefit 12 schools starting in January. The board will vote on the Youth 360 proposal at its Dec. 20 meeting.

“We can do it tomorrow if you say yes,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said.

A Nov. 27 memo explaining Youth 360 described it as a “structured after-school program” that offers participating students “homework time, healthy snacks, recreational activity and mentorship lessons.e_SDRq

The 12 participating elementary schools are Bernard Terrace, Capitol, Crestworth, Delmont, Glen Oaks, Howell Park, Glen Oaks Park, Melrose, Merrydale, Northdale, Ryan and Scotlandville.