Business community gets insight into St. John schools’ progress

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011



RESERVE – Finances, facilities and an education update were the topics of discussion during a presentation by the St. John the Baptist Parish School System to members of the River Region Chamber of Commerce.

Superintendent Dr. Courtney Millet, Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton and Project Manager Todd Mann of CSRS Inc., the firm handling facilities improvements, updated business leaders on the status of the school system and the progress over the past year. The annual forum normally involves all three River Parishes, but the Chamber decided this year to separate them so each school system can go a little more in depth.

Boughton opened with a discussion about the school system’s recent credit rating upgrade from financial services company Standard & Poor’s. He said the rating, which moved from A- to A+, is the highest rating in St. John School Board history.

“It opens the door for us to go after more bonds with lower interests,” Boughton said. “It is a big step in the right direction.”

The improved rating comes at a time when the school system is struggling with a decrease in revenue, which, Boughton said, is down by about $10 million. He said the revenue decline led to a decrease in general fund spending but added the lack of spending did not affect school performance.

“Even with the reduction, test scores went up 8.7 points, which is top 10 for growth in the state,” Boughton said. “It rarely happens that way. You typically see a decrease in test scores with a decrease in spending.”

Boughton said the school system has a lot to look forward to in the future, as new industrial advancement in the parish will lead to new investment and additional tax dollars.

On the facilities front, Mann said the parish is a year ahead of schedule in its master plan for facilities upgrades. He said the five-year plan is primed to wrap up in four years.

“We have been able to complete 17 of the 27 proposed projects that were part of the facilities plan,” Mann said. “The worst needs were addressed first.”

Mann said the two largest projects, full-scale renovations at West St. John Elementary and LaPlace Elementary, are still in the construction phase but very close to completion.

“West St. John is more than 90 percent complete and LaPlace Elementary is about 70 percent complete,” Mann said.

Millet concluded the presentation by touching on a long list of achievement goals and areas of focus in the classrooms. She addressed the consolidation of the parish’s alternative school program, the introduction of universal pre-school and institution of a districtwide reading program, which, she said, is helping to improve LEAP test scores among fourth-grade students.

She also discussed the school system’s growth in dual enrollment with Louisiana Technical College in Reserve. She said student enrollment in the program has grown to 350 since the program began in 2006.

“It is helping students to be successful after high school,” Millet said. “Dropout rates have gone from 9.4 percent in 2008 to 2.3 percent in 2010. It is making a difference.”