School bonds to appear on April ballot

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 14, 2012

By David Vitrano


EDGARD – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board will join the parish council on the April 21 ballot as the body will ask the voters to approve the issuance of $11.6 million in capital improvement bonds.

The move came because the district currently has 10 mills dedicated to debt services, but it will lose two of those mills at the end of the year if no action is taken.

Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton advised the board there are four options to deal with the situation.

The first is to do nothing and see the millages dedicated to debt services fall from 39.31 to 37.31 at the end of the year.

The second is to keep the debt services millages at the current level and ask voters to approve the issuance of $11.6 million in capital improvement bonds. Boughton said this was the choice endorsed by the administration, and the money would be used to tackle a list of projects that could not be paid for with the bond money approved in 2008.

The third option is to rededicate the two mills to the general fund. This would generate about $740,000 annually for the district.

The last option is a combination of the second and third options, leaving one mil dedicated to debt services, which would allow the district to seek $6.38 million in capital improvement bonds, and rededicating one mill to the general fund, which would generate about $370,000 annually.

Boughton also told the school board if the election failed, six months would have to pass before the issue could appear on the ballot again.

As the discussion opened up to motions, board member Russ Wise moved the board go with a modified version of option four, saying he wanted to stipulate that for the first two years, the money that would go to the general fund be dedicated exclusively to covering the cost of health insurance, an item Wise called “our newest, highest expense.”

He said this option would allow the district to tackle the most pressing facility needs while leaving some money aside for future emergencies.

“We need to improve our cash flow,” he said. “This gives us a cash cushion.”

Board member Gerald Keller, however, offered a substitute motion that the board go with option two, saying he felt the facility improvements needed to be dealt with right away.

“I think there’s some things that if we put them off and postpone them, we’re going to get caught,” said Keller.

Board President Patrick Sanders agreed with Keller’s assessment, saying, “Some of our facilities are 20 to 30 years old.”

He added, however, that he would like to set some of the money aside for future needs.

When a vote was taken, it was option two that emerged as the favorite, with only Wise and Clarence Triche voting against it.

This likely the last time the district will be able to seek bond money until about 2020, said Boughton, although bond attorney Hugh Martin said, “That estimate is a very conservative estimate.”

This was not the only motion of Keller’s that passed during the course of Thursday’s meeting.

When Superintendent Courtney Millet asked the board to approve $2,000 in out-of-state travel funds for John L. Ory Principal Terri Noel to become a certified mentor through the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Keller moved the courtesy be extended to all employees of the district and to school board members and that the amount be raised to $2,500.

In a somewhat surprising move, St. John Association of Educators head Carolyn Batiste came out against the measure.

“Dr. Keller, I appreciate that,” she said. “But we keep saying we don’t have any money.”

Clarence Triche then offered a substitute motion that was in line with Millet’s original request, but that motion had little support.

When Keller’s motion came to a vote, most of the board voted in favor of the measure, with Wise and Triche abstaining.

In other action, the board approved a bid from RTC to become the district’s Internet provider for the next five years. The service will cost $6,250 per month with a one-time $3,500 installation fee.

RTC Vice President Scott Small said, “It will put St. John schools at a great advantage.”

When some board members questioned the move because RTC is currently unavailable on the west bank, Small hinted that may change in the very near future.

The board also received a quarterly budget report from Boughton, who said that although sales tax revenue is up by about $700,000 from initial estimates, the district is still on course to use up just about all of its surplus by the end of the fiscal year.

The board also approved the appointment of Chantell Walker as the new guidance counselor at West St. John High School.

The meeting Thursday ended on a sour note, as a group of West St. John High parents were denied the right to speak at the meeting because the item was not previously on the agenda.

Toneka Terry, the mother of a senior at the school, had petitioned for this year’s graduation ceremony to be moved from Saturday, May 19, to Thursday, May 17, because she has another child graduating from the University of Louisiana-Monroe on the same day. She said she had a petition signed by the parents of 26 of the 34 parents of seniors, but her request was refused by both Principal Erica Merrick and Millet.

Terry said she plans to schedule a meeting with the superintendent and hopes to be placed on the agenda in the future.