State Bond Commission grants authority for new schools

The State Bond Commission granted authority Thursday to build new schools in New Orleans and Lake Charles.

The board that oversees government borrowing for public projects and programs also approved $145 million in bonds to finance state construction programs, including $25 million for equipment upgrades and renovations at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Centers in East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes.

The Bond Commission also gave its final OK to allow Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the insurer for property owners unable to purchase policies on the private market, to increase its line of credit from $75 million to $125 million.

The line of credit would allow Citizens to pay off expenses even if the insurer doesn’t have enough money on hand after a disaster.

The money would have to be paid back with interest of up to 6 percent if the line of credit is used.

The Orleans Parish School Board and Recovery School District sought authority to borrow about $18 million to lease property and build an elementary school at 3059 Higgins Blvd. in the Desire neighborhood.

The school is expected to open in 2015.

Without opposition and with little discussion, the bond commission allowed the group to use the federal New Market Tax Credit Program, which would allow investors to receive a tax credit.

The interest rate could not exceed 4 percent and the term of the bond could not exceed 40 years.

The Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy Foundation Inc. received approval for bonds not exceeding $20 million and not exceeding 10 percent fixed interest or 12 percent variable interest rate.

The money would be used for a 60,000-square-foot, 43-classroom facility on 10 acres of land on East McNeese Street in Lake Charles.

The foundation would use a portion of the funds received via the state Minimum Foundation Program to help repay the loan, said Gene Thibodeaux, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.

The academy receives about $9,200 from the state treasury for each student. But he wasn’t sure of the exact percentage of that money that would go to repay the debt.

Based on estimates given for various administrative costs and possible bond repayment schedules, state Bond Commission Director Whitman J. Kling Jr., using pen and paper while sitting at the witness table, calculated that about $7,300 of the $9,200 would still be available to pay for direct educational support, which fits into the legal standard.

Kling asked the commission to approve the lending authority subject to review of the contracts once an administrator is hired. The panel agreed without objection.

Commissioners also approved approximately $898,000 in savings from refinancing existing public debt, according to state Treasurer John Kennedy, who chairs the Bond Commission.

“We saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by signing off on the refinancing of public debt in five parishes,” Kennedy said in prepared statement.

Among the individual projects approved were:

Zachary, $10 million in Public Street Bonds: for widening and improving public roads, drainage, traffic signal synchronization, landscaping and sidewalks.

Louisiana Housing Corp., $50 million in Single Family Mortgage Revenue Bonds (Volume Cap): for financing mortgage loans for first-time homebuyers statewide.

St. James Parish Council, $3 million in General Obligation Refunding Bonds: approximately $74,000 in savings.