St. John Schools stick with CSRS

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

By David Vitrano


RRESERVE – CSRS, the Baton Rouge-based firm that oversaw the St. John the Baptist Parish School System’s recent facilities upgrades, will play a similar role in the district’s next round of upgrades that will be funded by a bond issue on the ballot in March.

“It’s going to help the board prioritize what needs to be done mechanically and maybe structurally to make sure everything is up to code,” said Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton. “They have some serious needs out there.”

Although the board approved a proposal from CSRS to assess, prioritize and set up budgets and timetables for the proposed projects for a fee of $48,000, board member Albert Burl III objected strongly to accepting the proposal.

He offered a substitute motion to table the matter for now and seek bids on such a project.

By his reasoning, an assessment was done four years ago, so the district already has an idea of what needs to be addressed. He said the district should instead follow the recommendations of district maintenance employees.

Boughton, however, refuted Burl’s assertion, saying that with only $11.6 million to potentially work with, the projects to tackle must be seriously considered and assessed. He also praised the work of CSRS over the last four years, noting that most projects were finished on time and under budget. He said that under CSRS, change orders resulting from planning deficiencies on projects were well below 3 percent, a figure much below the average.

“I think it is a proven track record,” said Boughton.

While he accepted Burl’s notion that the district might be able to hire someone to do a similar job for less money, he noted that the last major project in the district not helmed by CSRS, the construction of Emily C. Watkins Elementary School, came in more than half-a-million dollars over budget and was completed several months late. Change orders in that project were about 6 percent.

“Sometimes you get what you pay for,” he said.

A number of board members agreed with Boughton’s assessment.

“We can’t start with four-year-old information and rely on the observations of our maintenance workers and our principals,” said board member Russ Wise.

“CSRS already has a tremendous knowledge of all our buildings in the parish,” added board member Lowell Bacas.

Also approved by the school board Thursday was a second proposal from CSRS concerning the management and design of the proposed projects should voters approve the bond issue in March. Under that provision, CSRS will earn 17.9 percent of the $11.6 million, which comes to a little more than $2 million.

In other district financial action, the board accepted an audit from Phillip Rebowe concerning its fiscal operations during the 2010-11 fiscal year. Overall, the audit was all good news for the district.

“In summary, from a financial reporting standpoint, you earn high marks,” said Rebowe. “You’re facing a decline in revenue, and you’re trying to balance your funds, and I think you’re doing a good job with that.”

The board also accepted a proposal for a new property insurance policy. The new policy will cost the district nearly $1.5 million, an increase of about 40 percent. Boughton said the increase is because insurers have become more wary of the effects of tropical weather in recent years.

The current policy expires March 8.

State Sen. Troy Brown was present at Thursday’s meeting to try to allay some of the fears many school districts have developed regarding the upcoming legislative session.

Brown, who represents most of St. John Parish, said, “A lot of legislators are not for a lot of what’s being brought about. The public school system will not be left behind.”

Wise, who extended the invitation to the area’s legislators, said he feared some of the proposed cuts to items such as Title I money would put the public education system at risk.

“I’m beginning to feel that public education is dying the death of a thousand cuts,” he said.

Wise proposed further meeting between the board and local legislators before the Legislature convenes in March.

Another special guest at the meeting was Ryan Perrilloux, the football star from East St. John High School who was a part of the practice squad for the New York Giants, recent Super Bowl champs. Board member Keith Jones presented a plaque to local gridiron great.

Lastly, the board agreed to cancel its meeting scheduled for March 1 because of a conflict with the Louisiana School Board Association’s Annual Conference.