Tax proposal to cover Walker High improvements could be on May ballot

Tax proposal to cover Walker High improvements could be on May ballot

“The growth that the school has experienced is just incredible. In terms of space and the growth that the high school is under, we definitely need to expand.” Jason St. pierre, Walker High School principal

The Livingston Parish School Board could ask Walker-area residents to approve a property tax increase to pay for new facilities at Walker High School.

Board members are set to announce Thursday that they will consider a measure calling for an election in Walker and nearby areas to approve a bond for the new facilities.

Officials say the new buildings for Walker High School are needed because of growth at the school, which sits between Burgess Avenue and U.S. 190 just off La. 447.

Early plans include new classrooms, a new administrative building, an upgraded technology center, new science labs and athletic facility improvements, Superintendent John Watson said.

If voters approve the bond, which would be paid off using property taxes, the earliest construction could start is 2015, Watson said.

State law requires the School Board to announce the measure at least 30 days before it takes up a public hearing on it. School system officials said they hope to get the issue on the May 3 ballot.

School system officials have not determined the amount of the bond or how much taxpayers would pay for it.

The bond would only affect millage rates for households in the Walker bonding district, which shares roughly the same boundaries as the Walker attendance zone.

Livingston Parish has established school bonding districts within the parish so that residents will have to vote on bonds for projects only within their children’s bonding district.

The Walker attendance zone reaches as far north as the parish line with St. Helena down to the southern end of La. 447. The zone is sandwiched between the Denham Springs and Doyle attendance zones.

The millage rate in the Walker bonding district is 9.77 mills. If approved, the bond would cause the millage rate to go up, but the rate likely would decrease gradually as the school system pays its debts on the project and as development takes place in the district, Watson said.

The existing facilities don’t have any major maintenance issues, Watson said. They just don’t have enough room and have to be updated every time new technology arrives.

Walker High School’s campus was built in the late 1960s, when it was opened as a junior high school, Watson said. In 1975, more buildings were added to the campus and it became Walker High School.

The school system last added to the high school in 1997, when six classrooms were added, Watson said.

Walker High Principal Jason St. Pierre said the high school has grown by about 500 students in about the last five years.

The school enrolls about 1,000 students now in 10th through 12th grades. About 450 are enrolled at the nearby freshman high school, which broke off from the main high school in 2007 because of crowding issues.

The 10th- to 12th-grade population has surpassed the school’s old ninth- through 12th-grade population since the split, St. Pierre said.

St. Pierre said the school has added temporary buildings on campus since then to handle the growth, but that’s still not enough.

“The growth that the school has experienced is just incredible,” St. Pierre said. “In terms of space and the growth that the high school is under, we definitely need to expand.”

Watson said the school system also hopes to add new facilities equipped for technical career-oriented classes, which state officials have pushed for in recent years.

“It’s going to touch every child in the district,” he said, noting that Walker High School is the only high school in the Walker attendance zone.

The School Board has voted at its last two meetings to buy about 4 acres just south of Walker High School for the expansions.

The board might look into buying even more land for the project, said board member Jimmy Watson, who represents Walker.

Board members are looking into building “basically almost a new high school” with the bond, Jimmy Watson said.

Watson said the board is asking the voters to approve of the bond because it simply does not have enough money to complete the project otherwise.

“Do you have any other way you know we can get $25 million?” he asked with a laugh.