Critical school vote set

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE — When Courtney Millet was principal at LaPlace Elementary School, she remembers the nights that it rained.

“I would lie in bed worrying about all the classrooms that would have water in them the next morning,” she said.

The reason was the many roof problems at the school, a situation that is a parish-wide concern for St. John Parish public schools.

But now Millet has a bigger problem.

“Now that I’m superintendent, when it rains I lie in bed at night and worry about all the schools,” she said.

Next Tuesday, November 4, voters will go to the polls in St. John Parish and have an opportunity to help Millet, now the St. John school system superintendent, get a little sleep.

But more than that, Millet said that the two school millage propositions facing St. John voters carry the hope for students in the parish to have a much improved school system.

“Most of us would agree that, next to the values instilled by the family, the quality of the education received by our children is the most important prediction of their future success, and that their success will in turn define the future of our community,” she said. “The better our schools are, the brighter our future will be.”

Voters will face two propositions on Tuesday, and the most important thing that Millet is trying to communicate to the public is that “these millages will not increase your taxes at all!”

The millages are simply a renewal of existing taxes, but they will provide $46 million for school improvements, which will include work of some sort at every school in the public school system. Additionally, Millet has put together a detailed Master Plan to address deficiencies that currently exist, while adding a comprehensive plan for improvement in virtually every area.

Proposition No. 1 is for the renewal of eight mills to fund retiree health benefits, employee salaries and academic improvements. Proposition No. 2 is for 10 mills to allow the school system to borrow the $46 million for school repairs, improvements and construction projects.

A multitude of local public officials and organizations have come out in favor of the millage renewals, with St. John Sheriff Wayne Jones taking the lead by issuing a letter that he included as a paid advertisement in L’Observateur today.

“These two propositions are crucial to the stability and further strengthening of our Public School System within our Parish,” Jones said in the letter.

He particularly pointed out the job Millet did when she was principal at LaPlace Elementary, and built the school into one of the best in the district. She was named the new St. John school superintendent earlier this year.

“Superintendent Millet has done a superior job and can do an even greater job if these propositions pass,” Jones added.

Millet emphasized that the millage passage is crucial to St. John being able to attract the top teachers in the region, since the millage for St. John is the lowest of any school districts in the Southeast Louisiana area.

“Our parish has consistently kept its millages low, saving taxpayers $1.9 million over the past four years,” she said. “But we desperately need this millage renewal so we can keep paying our teachers in a way that makes us competitive with surrounding districts like St. James and St. Charles, which both have higher millages than we do.”

The St. John School Board hired a consulting firm to do a school-wide analysis of its facility needs, and have come up with a comprehensive improvement plan that will include a multitude of projects at every public school in the parish.

But Millet has also put forth an equally comprehensive Master Plan for the St. John school system, to aim at great improvement, from the current rank of St. John as the 56th district in the state, out of 66 parishes.

Millet’s plan aims at a 2 to 3 percent increase in school performance schools each year, while she also has set a graduation goal of at least 85 percent of its students. Currently, the school system graduation rate is only at 56 percent.

Millet is fighting one key problem with the public school system in St. John, in that a high percentage of students in the parish attend some of the many private schools.

“I am asking parents of students who attend those private schools to not turn a blind eye to public education,” she pleaded at one public meeting where she spoke. “We want all students to have an opportunity to do their best, and increasing studies are showing that good facilities help students do better.”

She pointed to her own former school, LaPlace Elementary, which has buildings which are more than 40 years old, noting how common that situation is throughout the entire school system.

She emphasized the Master Plan that has been put forth by the school system, and said that the money which would be realized by the millage renewal is guaranteed to stay where it is intended.

“I think that is one of the best things about this plan,” she noted. “This plan is set up so that no matter who the St. John School Board is, or who is in the administration, this money will be spent in the exact place we are saying right now.”

For more detail on the millage plan, go to on the Internet, and click on “Educational and Facilities Planning” in the middle of the home page.