St. John Public Schools celebrate voter support

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, May 6, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LaPlace — Clarence Triche said the excitement was easy to see when he visited St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools central office this week.

The school board president said district personnel were excited following an election day Saturday that saw St. John voters renew two existing taxes and vote to allow the school district to borrow $10 million to assist with repairs to Hurricane Isaac-damaged Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School.

“We are all very happy,” Triche said. “I was at the school board office (Monday) morning, and I don’t think the superintendent was walking on the floor he was walking so high.

“Without the money from the election, we would probably not have been able to rebuild Lake Pontchartrain. We’re all still waiting on FEMA, and FEMA is basically running the show right now.”

By a nearly 2-to-1 margin (1,402 “yes” votes, 756 “no” votes), St. John voters approved the school district incurring debt and issuing bonds not exceeding $10,380,000 and not exceeding 20 years with an interest rate not exceeding eight percent to rebuild Lake Pontchartrain Elementary.

School district executive director of finance Felix Boughton said the money approved Saturday paves the way for the school district to build a new elementary school.

“Right now we are still waiting on our final settlement from FEMA, and I think we are scheduled to hear from them May 20,” Boughton said. “Once that is in place, we can get the ball rolling as far as design and build. The plan right now is still to have a new school two years from this fall.”

Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, located at 3328 U.S. 51 in LaPlace, serves an average of 675 students a day in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth.

Triche said with the voter-approved money and an expected settlement from FEMA, the district should be able to build a new Lake Pontchartrain school a little smaller than the current one that accommodates all needs.

The John voters also:

• Renewed a 4.33 mill tax on all property in the district for 10 years beginning in 2017 to operate and maintain system buildings and other facilities.

The millage is estimated bring $1,997,785 a year.

The vote passed by a 1,437 to 714 margin.

“Now, we will have continued funding to maintain, not only the new buildings, but the rest of the buildings throughout the parish,” Boughton said.

• Authorized the school district to rededicate all proceeds received by the parish from a .25 percent sales tax to provide funds of up to $2,000 per year to pay salaries and benefits for teachers, with any excess proceeds dedicated to the salaries of all school system employees, including teachers, after deducting payment of associated benefits.

An estimated $2,400,000 is expected to be collected yearly from the tax renewal.

Boughton said the tax has been place for more than a decade.

“Our theme since the new superintendent took over is we are all as one trying to educate these kids,” Boughton said. “Now this excess tax gets to be spread out to all employees.”

The vote passed by a 1,272 to 880 margin.

Boughton said officials put out the message that the school system took a big hit facility-wise with Hurricane Isaac.

“It’s time to rebuild St. John School Board,” Boughton said. “We need the funds to do it. I think that message got out. I think these parents saw that we needed the funds, and they want to get their kids in newer buildings. They went and voted for it.”