St. John voters reject school propositions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2005


Staff Reporter

RESERVE — Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish rejected three school-related proposals on Saturday, which would have collectively allowed for construction, improvements, and maintenance on schools, as well as raised teacher pay.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Coburn said the vote results and the low turnout was “very, very disappointing.”

Proposition 1 involved the borrowing of $20 million in bonds to put toward a “wish list” of improvements and constructions within the school district.

New roofs for several schools, the construction of a ninth grade wing at East St. John High, a new East Bank elementary school, and a new media center at West St. John Elementary were some of projects planned, if the proposition would have passed.

Coburn said there were several reasons the public may not have showed up to vote, one of them being a lack of information to the community.

However, the “wish list” for Proposition 1 was compiled after a series of public forums held by the school systems newly formed communications committee also resulted in low turnouts.

Proposition 2 asked voters to rededicate a property tax already in effect to pay for teacher and school employee raises, while the third proposition requested the renewal of a property tax to help with maintenance and operations.

All of these propositions were independent of one another, which meant one could have passed without the others.

“One thing that really hurt was the tax on the operation and maintenance for the schools,” Coburn said, “That’s a million dollar loss

to us, that’s a big bombshell.”

Coburn questioned whether the voters read the ballot while at the polls or decided in advance to just go into the booth and vote no on everything.

Coburn said he and others in school administration will meet with the school board to discuss the situation, and he expects to try again in another election.

“We’ll put our heads together and come to a consensus that we can all stand behind,” Coburn said.

Coburn also said in the weeks before the election he did not experience much opposition from the board or the public, but conceded some he had heard some in the public did not agree with the projects the $20 million would have been used on.

School Board Member Russ Wise has been the only member to speak out against Proposition 1, saying at past meetings he believed the school district was acting too hastily and borrowing the money just to borrow it.

“Just because we can borrow $20 million doesn’t mean we have to,” Wise said at a meeting in June, before the board voted on the wish list.

“We just didn’t get our people out to vote is what happened,” Coburn said, “There’s 6,000 kids in the (school district), and you would think you could get one parent out from every household.”

The registrar’s office said there are 27,736 registered voters in the parish, and next time Coburn said he would push harder to reach them.

“We’ll get out to the communities to let them know there is a desperate need for these facilities.” Coburn said, “We’re growing and we need the space, and in the long run, it just hurts the kids.”