WPSB to ELA … No!

Webster Parish school system Business Director Crevonne Odom circulates financial information to board members during Monday’s finance committee meeting.

A contractor’s request for nearly one million dollars in additional funds to cover cost increases in materials and unexpected delays on a construction project at Minden High School received a unanimous thumbs down Monday from the
Webster Parish School Board.

ELA Group, Inc. officials Ed Angel Sr. and Ed Angel Jr. had asked the board last month to consider the additional funds to help complete construction on a multi-purpose building at the school. The $975,728 request would have upped the price on a project initially bid at $9.9 million plus roughly $690,000 in change orders since construction began.  

Following a lengthy discussion during its finance committee meeting, board members in regular session decided against handing over the money to ELA Group, Inc. despite what one member considered a “threat” received in an email to Superintendent Johnny Rowland. 

“Based on the email, it seems to threaten us,” board member Jerry Lott said during the finance committee discussion. “It says if we (ELA) don’t get the money we’re going to discontinue the project and our subcontractors probably are going to walk off the job. Would you call it a threat?”

Rowland said in his opinion, a good word to describe contents of the email was “ultimatum.”

School system Business Director Crevonne Odom reminded board members that if litigation resulted from the decision, “…we will have to pay attorney fees from the general fund. We can’t pay it from the original obligation bond money.”

Board members were told the contractor’s performance bond most likely would cover completing the project, but noted that would be a legal question.

Also Monday, the board agreed to table until August approval of a proposed step pay increase for employees affected by a years-long salary freeze. During the finance committee meeting, Odom had asked members to delay action until she had a chance to review fiscal year closure financial data.

“Whether you vote tonight or wait until we can study the figures, the increase would not be implemented until October,” she said.

Board President Charles Strong said he didn’t want school staff to believe the board was stalling action on step increases.

“We’re only giving Mrs. Odom time to study the financials, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression we’re against these increases,” Strong said.

During Monday’s meeting, school board members approved a number of projects to be paid from various parish school maintenance and sales tax funds. Included in the list approved were:

• $133,550 to upgrade the unrepairable Bogen intercom and phone system with the Bogen Nyquest intercom and phone system at Minden High School.

• $18,826 proposal from Camus Electric to install 46 dimmable LED light kits at the MHS auditorium.

• $9,780 quote from Sexton Tree Service to remove seven problematic trees at Browning Elementary.

• $6,340 to Mechanical Cooling Services to repair lightening damage to chiller at Lakeside Jr/Sr High School.

• $4,875 proposal from Homeland Safety to install door intercom, remote locking system and keypad for school’s front door.

• $4,369.47 to Homeland Safety Systems for repair of utility pole at North Webster High School.