MONTPELIER — The St. Helena Parish School Board met Thursday in historic Rocky Hill AMC Church in its drive to drum up parishwide voter support for the school district’s two tax propositions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Voters are being asked to approve a pair of ad valorem tax propositions, one a 16.4-mill tax to fund employee pay and benefits and a the other a 9.4-mill tax for school improvements and construction.
During the past several years, St. Helena voters repeatedly rejected tax measures designed to support the school system.
School Superintendent Kelli Joseph asked people in the audience to support the tax measures, citing the district’s recent gains in standardized test results and its improved graduation rate.
Joseph said St. Helena’s students have demonstrated new levels of achievement in reading and reading comprehension skills and that the district has earned accreditation through the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges.
Now, she said, the parish system needs to raise the pay of its teachers, who are hard to retain because they can earn about $10,000 more a year in other parishes.
Joseph said that one fourth-grade class had four different teachers in a year.
“Every time teachers leave, they say it’s because of the low salaries,” Joseph said. “We have got to keep our teachers to assure continuity for our students.”
Joseph said if funding becomes available through new taxes, the district would create an elementary school for kindergarten through sixth-grade students and a high school serving students in seventh through 12th grades.
Two years ago, supervision of St. Helena Junior High School was taken over by the state’s Recovery District School because of poor academic performance.
Clay Slagle of Volkert Inc., a construction consulting firm, gave a detailed outline of possible improvements if additional funding becomes a reality.
The system would spend $700,000 in federal Gulf Coast Recovery Grant money to make improvements to the former Northshore Technical Community College, for instance.
The board has applied for a $4.5 million loan from the federal Rural Community Development Agency, which, if granted, would pay for erecting a new building with 12 classrooms and office space to replace a building that burned down.
If the two tax measures win voter approval, about $8.5 million in revenue bonds could be issued and the funds used, in addition to school construction, for renovating the gym and auditorium at the high school, for expanding athletic facilities and for a variety of improvements to classrooms and other facilities, Slagle said.