A Tangipahoa Parish School Board member is questioning whether the school system needs to spend $54.5 million to build three new schools to reach the district’s desegregation goals.
Board member Brett Duncan said he plans to offer a resolution Tuesday that would outline a process and a timetable to consider revising the board-drafted, court-approved desegregation plan. The plan is designed to bring an end to the district’s 47-year-old federal case.
The desegregation plan as originally drafted requires the district to implement magnet programs, expand and repair existing facilities and build three new schools that would draw students across current attendance zones.
The total estimated cost for the construction projects is $54.5 million, according to the district’s 2012-13 budget.
However, Duncan said, voluntary desegregation through the magnet programs has been more successful than the School Board envisioned, and the district’s financial status is not as strong as it was four years ago when the board first drafted the plan and those factors need to be considered.
Moreover, voters in April 2011 soundly rejected a 29.5-mill tax package to finance the plan, he said.
Duncan said virtual learning programs, state education vouchers and other legislative changes also might have profound effects on school attendance throughout the district. Given the changing dynamics, the School Board should consider reworking the desegregation plan, he said.
The board needs to move quickly to consider any revisions to the plan, Duncan said, because the current implementation schedule requires the school system to be begin acquiring property for construction projects within the next few weeks.
“Before we reach the point of no return with using this $60 million to build these new schools, shouldn’t we at least pause for a moment and consider whether there are ways in which the plan might be improved?” Duncan asked.
But board member Al Link said the delay and potential changes could also come with a cost.
The board has three attorneys working on its behalf in the desegregation case and also is responsible for paying the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Link said. Every court filing, hearing and change costs the district money, he said.
Although the school system has made strides in improving racial balance, Link said, new schools still may be needed because of overcrowding.
“Ponchatoula schools are pretty well full, and people out west have been asking about a school out that way,” he said. “Midway Elementary in Natalbany is busting at the seams needing more room. They’ve got a lot of (temporary) buildings there. And Loranger is at its seams.”
Duncan’s resolution would suggest a timetable for considering revisions that would include a public comment period through mid-October. That would be followed by cost and feasibility analyses by the board’s attorneys and architects, stakeholder meetings and a public hearing and board vote no later than Oct. 31.
“If the board’s desire is simply not to ask for changes, I would be disappointed certainly, but we need to just make that determination one way or the other,” Duncan said.
The board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the School Board’s Central Office Board Room, 59656 Puleston Road, in Amite.