School Board picks Gautreau

The Ascension Parish School Board will have a new leader beginning Friday.

Troy Gautreau, a Gonzales resident who has served on the board for the past decade, was elected on a 6-5 vote during Tuesday’s meeting to serve as School Board president.

“It’s truly humbling to say the least,” Gautreau said following his victory over incumbent President A.J. Nickens.

Nickens defeated Gautreau, 6-5, last year to succeed longtime President Ed Price, who left the School Board to serve in the state Legislature.

Jamie Bourgeois, John Murphy, Kerry Diez, Patricia Russo and Richard “Coach” Brown supported Gautreau, who also voted for himself.

Nickens, Lorraine Wimberly, Thomas “Moose” Pearce, Catherine Davis and Taft Kleinpeter voted for Nickens to remain as president.

Gautreau thanked Nickens for his leadership during the past year and thanked his fellow board members for allowing him to serve as the 2013 president.

“I look forward to working with everyone and moving the School Board forward,” Gautreau said.

Wimberly was re-elected as vice president for the third consecutive year, defeating Bourgeois in a 6-5 vote.

Voting for vice president was nearly identical as the presidential vote, with everyone who supported Nickens’ failed re-election bid also supporting Wimberly. Brown supported Wimberly to give her the extra vote needed to remain in her leadership position.

“I think it’s going to be a good experience this year working with Troy, and I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

Gautreau and Wimberly will be the leaders of an 11-member board that is facing a challenging year ahead.

The board received a positive audit review Tuesday night that showed the district remains on solid financial footing.

Michael Schexnayder, director of the Baton Rouge audit firm Postlethwaite & Netterville’s Gonzales office, said the audit showed the school district is a $240 million-a-year business in “very good financial shape.”

The district added more than $12 million to its surplus last year, pushing its general fund balance to more than $69 million, he said.

The district saw a $6 million increase in sales tax revenue, $2.2 million increase in property tax revenue and a nearly $7.5 million increase in state Minimum Foundation Program funding, according to the report.

However, Schexnayder warned that the district has no guarantees that revenue will continue to grow.

In addition, retirement and health insurance costs continue to grow for school districts.

The school district also faces three key property tax renewals on the May 4 ballot.

The three 10-year taxes combine for 33 mills that are dedicated for salaries (21 mills), facilities (4 mills) and technology (8 mills). The owner of a $250,000 home in Ascension Parish would pay $577.50 per year for 33 mills.

School Board officials have stressed the importance of renewing the three taxes as the parish continues to grow and even are considering asking voters to approve a new tax to help with future construction costs of new schools.

Schexnayder said the continued growth will be one of the district’s biggest issues in the future.

“While financially you’re in very good shape,” Schexnayder said, “you’ll certainly have some big challenges.”