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Contributing Writer

St. Landry Parish Finance Committee members have agreed to erase $71,817 that Opelousas High School officials say is owed to creditors for bills that have accumulated over the past seven years.

The Committee took action on the issue Monday night after representatives from the school indicated they needed removal of at least $53,000 of what they described as old debts. A final decision by the Board will be made during the regular monthly meeting Thursday night.

In addition said Opelousas High school representative Sheryl Ned, the school also owes at least $17,000 in previous expenditures that have apparently remain unpaid.

Parish school officials have been warned by auditors for the past several years that rectifying outstanding balances for school activity accounts is necessary in order for the District to attain sound internal financial control.

An audit report for the budgetary year that ended June 30 stated that while the School Board normally performs routine audits of school funds, “that in the past school administrators have allowed certain groups to spend funds that are sometimes not available to those groups.”

Ned told the Committee that after an extensive examination of all the bills that are owed by the school that she determined that $71,817 is necessary to pay all of the current OHS expenses.

Ned informed the Committee that she would like to pay off the debts that have accrued since 2015 so she can begin addressing some of the newer expenditures that have begun to mount.

“We’re still paying all these old bills. People have been calling and wanting their money,” Ned noted.

Opelousas High athletic director and head football coach Jimmy Zachery, Jr. said he has been unable to purchase new equipment for football due to the school’s financial circumstances.

Board President Albert Hayes, Jr., said there is no use pointing fingers about the Opelousas High finances since there is a sufficient amount of blame elsewhere.

“Some of this goes back to 2013. We need to have some sort of auditing procedure in place. It seems to me there have been a lot of mistakes made by everyone including this Board in auditing and accounting. I think we need to pay off everyone and get everything straight,” Hayes added.

Board member Randy Wagley reminded the Committee that the Board had agreed at some point to pay all the old debts for all schools in the District.

Superintendent Patrick Jenkins told the Committee that there are “a variety of reasons” why the school has been unable to pay its debts.

Jenkins did not elaborate on the reasons why Opelousas is having financial difficulties.

Opelousas High has been without a school principal for most of the 2021-22.

Principal Rickey Julien was granted extended sick leave several months ago.

Board member Donnie Perron said school expenses seem to become more obvious during administrative turnovers.

“The buck stops with the principal. Until the principals are held accountable we will have these kinds of problems,” Perron added.