ZACHARY — Bowing to public pressure, the Zachary Community School District won’t accept any students from other, less-successful school systems under the new state voucher program, Superintendent Warren Drake said.
The School Board voted April 26 to accept 30 eligible students next year who would normally attend C-, D- and F-rated schools in other districts: 15 in kindergarten and 15 first-graders.
Zachary has been the state’s top-performing district for seven consecutive years and is the only A-rated district in Louisiana.
School Board members and school employees soon began getting calls from parents and other community members concerned about the cost to Zachary, Drake said Tuesday.
“The deadline for applying was pretty quick, so I don’t think I did a very good job in getting all the information out to the board and the community and explain to them how it was going to be a minimal expense,” Drake said.
Drake said last month the state would award Zachary about $4,000 per child accepted through the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. Zachary now spends more than twice that amount per student, and the state Education Department projects that the district will receive a maximum of $8,843 for regularly enrolled students next year.
Only A- and B-rated public schools and eligible charter schools may accept the vouchers.
The deadline for eligible public schools to apply is May 18.
The students would have been accepted at the A-rated Northwestern Elementary and the new Rollins Place Elementary, but without adding a teacher at either school, Drake said.
“Most people who called were concerned about the finances. That’s what the problem was. They were very respectful, but they were concerned about the money,” the superintendent said.
“When it’s all said and done, it will cost more money, but we thought, after the example we had set with (Hurricane) Katrina with adding 300 kids and not losing the quality of education, that we could lend a hand, even to a small degree,” Drake said.
“But, the bottom line is we work for the people of Zachary, and they were concerned about the cost,” he said.
Drake said the arrangement probably would have added one more student in each kindergarten and first-grade class, but “the final straw was that, next year, teachers are going to have more stress on them than they’ve ever had before.”
Teachers must begin implementing a new, national core curriculum next school year and be evaluated under a new, “value-added” model in which measures of student growth are supposed to make up at least 50 percent of all evaluations. The evaluations also must be done annually.
“We recognize the sacrifices many of our own families make to provide their students with a first-rate education and appreciate the community’s continued financial support of our district,” Drake said.
Since the district’s creation in 2003, Zachary voters have approved $129 million in bonds for a massive school construction program. Property owners are paying 36 mills to retire the bonds, plus 43.2 mills in general school taxes. The board also levies 2 percent in sales taxes.