Saturday’s voters will decide the fate of a $35 million proposal by the St. Charles Parish Public Schools School Board.
The board is seeking authorization to issue new bonds not to exceed $35 million for capital improvement projects. If approved, the new bonds will be serviced by renewing 1.2 mills – which expired in December 2021 – of the total 5.01 debt service millage.
When asked what that millage equated to for a household, St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler provided the following table for what homeowners paid in 2021 for the 1.2 mills.
Troxler said the table also represents the amount of annual savings a household would accrue if the proposed bond isn’t approved.
Literature produced by the school district states that taxes will not increase if the bond issue is passed, and that the school system intends to continue to levy the same debt service millage upon the issuance of the new bonds.
Per law, the funds would only be able to be used for capital improvement projects. Additionally, any funds that are in the Sinking Funds (funds received from bond issue millages) can only be used to repay bonded debt.
Many local residents have expressed their disapproval for the ballot item.
“I believe that it is unethical to exploit the system by internally lobbying their employee base while paying taxpayers funds – $64,000 – for a special election that they know good and well will have a very low turnout,” Hahnville resident Rick Whitney said. “Essentially they are manipulating the system to the taxpayers detriment, at the taxpayer’s expense. Also, this is not a renewal of an old tax. The prior debt has been paid. This is new tax. I’m tired of their word craft.”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Ken Oertling said the first available election dates after February 2022 – when the bonds were officially paid off after the parish’s tax deadline was extended due to Hurricane Ida – were March 26 and April 30.
“The April 30 date was chosen over March 26 in order to meet the legal filing requirements while trying to recover from Hurricane Ida,” he said. “Choosing one of these dates for the election would allow for the new bond projects to begin as soon as possible. State law requires a local government to share in the cost of an election it holds, or to bear the total cost if there is nothing else on the ballot. The $64,000 is an estimated cost determined by the Secretary of State to hold an election.”
Each member of the school board was contacted for comments on the bond proposal. The only response received was from School Board President Alex Suffrin.
“As board president, I am responding on behalf of the entire board,” he said. “The slate of projects made possible by this bond issue allows us to better serve the current needs of our students, employees and the community. Students are at the core of our decision-making as a board and there is a need for us to expand and enhance current spaces and equipment to provide students with the environment and skills to be successful in the future.”
Suffrin said he hopes voters consider the opportunities and advancements that the bond renewal would provide for students.
“I also hope they consider that each time the school board has acquired bonds through voter approval, we have followed through with and accomplished what was promised to the community,” Suffrin said. “Residents value public education and know the importance a successful school system has on the quality of life. We are fortunate to have the support of our community and local partnerships that contribute greatly to our overall success.”
Oertling said that in order for district students to be future-ready and prepared for an ever-changing work force and world, district officials must provide them with optimal learning environments and resources.
“Over time and especially during the recent pandemic years, education has evolved, and not all of our buildings have been remodeled to meet the current needs,” he said. “With an emphasis on career and technical education, early childhood and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), campuses are in need of updates to accommodate current learning methods.”
Oertling said Destrehan and Hahnville High Schools were built in 1975 and the East Bank Head Start Center was constructed in 1958.
“The center’s office area is currently housed in a modular building,” he added. “The enrollment at the Satellite Center has increased and additional career pathways continue to be added. As more opportunities are made available to students and needs change, our buildings and equipment must also change.”
Oertling said the projects proposed have been identified as priorities and are necessary to meet the current and future needs of the school system.
“If the bond issue does not pass, further evaluation and planning would need to take place to determine timelines as other sources of funding would need to be identified,” he said.
Funds created by the passage of the bond issue would be funneled into three areas: career and technical education renovations and additions, renovations and additions at numerous district centers and schools and technology.
Proposed work that falls under career and technical education additions and renovations – which carries a $16,616,000 price tag – encompasses work at Destrehan High, Hahnville High and the Satellite Center.
For DHS, it would include renovation of the existing career and technical education area to modernize and improve functionality and an addition of a covered outdoor workspace adjacent to the career and technical education area. At HHS, it would include renovation of the existing career and technical education area to modernize and improve functionality and construction of a new classroom building addition for the career and technical education area.
Renovation of the applied science wing to modernize and improve functionality and construction of a new classroom building addition would be on tap for the Satellite Center.
Ringing in at $13,134,000 are proposed renovations and additions at all middle schools, high schools, East Bank Head and Luling Elementary. Albert Cammon Middle, Harry Hurst Middle, J.B. Martin Middle and R.K. Smith Middle Schools would see renovation and conversion of existing computer labs to STEAM labs, and Destrehan and Hahnville High Schools would see renovation and conversion of libraries to flexible, digital media spaces.
Included in the price tag would also be the renovation of science labs at Destrehan High School, and construction of a new building addition to include classrooms and office space at the East Bank Head Start Center.
Reconfiguration to allow for parking, a bus circle and a drop-off canopy and renovation of building J including new paint, light fixtures, flooring, ceiling work, technology and furnishings would also happen at East Bank Head Start.
At Harry Hurst and J.B. Martin Middle Schools there would be an addition of an elevator to building A at J.B. Martin Middle School and a replacement of existing building B elevator at Harry Hurst Middle School.
Luling Elementary School would see renovations of buildings B, C and D including new paint, light fixtures, flooring, ceiling work, technology, furnishings and restrooms. R.K. Smith Middle School would see expansion of the main building to construct additional classrooms including new paint, light fixtures, flooring, ceiling work, technology and furnishings.
Carrying a $5,250,000 price tag is the technology component of the bond proposal. It includes an upgrade to the technology network infrastructure and a plan to equip classrooms with up-to-date, interactive large screen devices. Installation of additional security cameras and an upgrade to existing cameras is also in the proposal.
The last school district bond issue passage was in 2015. It rang in at $42,000,000 and included safety and security upgrades, building renovations and construction of the Lafon Performing Arts Center.
Oertling said he hopes residents keep several things in mind when they cast their vote Saturday.
“I hope they consider our children, their learning environment, and the need to update outdated facilities that do not currently meet the needs of our students and employees,” he said. “As we prepare students with skills necessary for an ever-changing workplace, our courses and spaces must be flexible, equipped with current technology, and foster collaboration, innovation, and creativity. Our students, employees and the community value and support public education and this is an investment in our future for generations to come.”
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
There are temporary polling locations due to Hurricane Ida.
Precincts 1-2 and 1-2A will vote at Eual J. Landry, Sr. Middle School, located at 108 Tiger Circle in Hahnville.
Precincts 2-3 will vote at Mimosa Park Elementary School, located at 222 Birch St. in Luling.
Precincts 3-3 and 6-8 will vote at Ethel School Schoeffner Elementary School, located at 140 Plantation Rd. in Destrehan.
Precincts 4-1 and 4-1A will vote at Allemands Elementary School, located at 1471 WPA Rd. in Des Allemands.
Precinct 6-1 will vote at the Zephirin L. Perriloux Firehouse, located at 17830 River Rd. in Montz.