Board OKs BR firm

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board at a special meeting Tuesday morning gave the green light to a Baton Rouge consulting firm that will coordinate the district’s informational campaign for the board’s bond issue election this fall and – using up to $46 million from bond sales – design and oversee over the next six years a master plan to improve St. John schools and explore building new ones.

The board has agreed to pay the firm, CSRS Inc., $175,000 for the master planning phase of the project and then 4.4 percent of the program’s entire value, which is contingent upon voters’ approval of a tax rededication proposal on Nov. 4. In its original proposal last week, CSRS had asked for 4.5 percent of the project’s value. Felix Boughton, executive director of financial and business operations for the school district, said that, under regulations, the board would have been required to wait 60 days before reconsidering the proposal had it remained unchanged.

Superintendent Courtney Millet, who has supported the hiring of the consulting firm, added that the administration had already negotiated discounted terms with the company before its first proposal last week.

Chris Pellegrin, chief operating officer of CSRS, said his firm would immediately begin assessing St. John schools and, through communicating with the community and administration, create a master plan that maps out specific projects so voters this fall will know exactly where the rededicated tax dollars would be spent.

The about-face comes just days after the board split 5-5 on the firm’s first proposal. At the meeting last week, Board Member Russ Wise said he was in favor of hiring a consulting firm to coordinate the informational campaign but opposed binding the district to selling millions of dollars in bonds and necessarily undertaking several projects shortly thereafter.

But Wise voted in favor of the proposal on Tuesday and said he recognized the “time crunch” the board finds itself in just months before the fall election.  CSRS in its proposal noted that a master plan for a district the size of St. John would normally take six to nine months to prepare. “We understand the desire to have the plan done prior to the November 4, 2008, election and have developed a schedule that we feel is achievable,” the proposal states.

Board members voting against CSRS on Tuesday were Ali Burl and Clarence Triche. “My only objection is that it’s going to cost us a little bit too much money,” said Triche, who pointed out that there had not been enough time to schedule a finance committee meeting to review the proposal.

Burl also expressed concern that the proposal had no endorsement from the finance committee. The proposal to hire CSRS passed 8-2 with one member absent.