School Board lists priorities

The Lafayette Parish School Board is meeting Wednesday to discuss what major construction and repair projects to fund with $30 million from a bond sale.

The School Board authorized the sale of $30 million in bonds to fund school improvement projects Oct. 24. The school district’s staff has presented board members with a list of possible projects to fund with the money, which board members will discuss at a workshop at 4 p.m. and take up again at the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

The bond sale can’t move forward until board members reach an agreement on how to spend the money.

The board faces a tight timeline to begin projects in Youngsville, where school officials say new classroom space is critically needed to respond to continual growth in the city.

A new neighborhood is being constructed adjacent to Green T. Lindon Elementary, where a new classroom building has been proposed. That estimated $9 million project, as well as a $5.3 million for an expansion at Youngsville Middle are on the list of proposed projects that have been presented to the board.

Board members have already approved an architect for the Lindon project and given approval to advertise for an architect for the Youngsville Middle work.

But the board has yet to reach agreement on where to spend the rest of the money, as well as about $3 million from its capital improvements budget.

While agreeing the Youngsville projects should be a priority, some board members have opposed other projects on the list because they deviate from priorities set within a facilities master plan developed in 2010.

The master plan “takes the political pressure” off the decisions and off board members, said board member Rae Trahan, whose district includes the Youngsville area.

“I’m fearful that the pressure may get too severe and some board members may not support truly where the money needs to go,” Trahan said. “The two issues at Youngsville Middle and Green T. Lindon are absolutely severe and need to be addressed.”

While two schools in her district are on the list, she said those projects barely “touch the surface” of the overcrowding of the south Lafayette Parish schools.

At Ernest Gallet Elementary in Youngsville, at least 500 students are “in the yard” — in portable buildings at a school built for 750, Trahan said.

She said she supports the two Youngsville projects on the list and would like to the board to agree to spend the remaining bond money on projects that are “most severe.”

“In general, I think we need to sit down and prioritize — what projects are the most severe that need addressing, that are safety issues or sanitary issues and that’s where we should send the money,” Trahan said.

In addition to the two Youngsville schools, the proposed list of bond projects also involve major construction or renovations at Northside High, Thibodaux Magnet STEM Academy, L.J. Alleman Middle and Lafayette High.

On Wednesday, the board will also receive a list of about $15 million in projects school principals identified as needed on their campuses.

School Board president Shelton Cobb said he supports the proposed projects, but said other areas of the parish need help with facilities, as well.

“I think we’re having a better understanding that the system has to grow systematically instead of addressing knee jerk reactions to population,” Cobb said.

“The population is booming in south Lafayette. We still have to address those facility needs, but we need to address them systematically. We don’t want elementary schools with 2,000 students.”

Cobb stressed the need to align the goals in the district’s educational plan with future building projects and growth.

The facilities plan was developed prior to the system’s comprehensive educational plan — a six-year guide to improving the district’s state accountability label to an “A.” Recently released state accountability scores showed district performance improved from a C to a B.

“I think the track that we want to be on is the educational plan,” Cobb said. “It’s about what the children need — not just building buildings.”

The board will take the first steps in integrating the educational and facilities plan Wednesday when it considers the creation of a community education committee that, among other things, would make suggestions on potential funding sources for major school improvements.

The committee’s role is similar to a previous community oversight committee that recommended that the board go to voters in October 2011 with a proposed $560 million property tax bond to fund a host of school projects.

The bond issue failed, which some critics attributed to public mistrust and the lack of an educational plan.