Hemelt: School District asking for tax after performance jump

Published 12:02 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

The vibes and morale were largely positive this week as St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members and administrators basked in the glory following the School District’s letter grade jump to B in the latest Louisiana Department of Education accountability rankings.

Meeting for the first time as a full Board Thursday since the rankings were released statewide in December, School Board members and School District leaders had every right to celebrate.

All comments made at the School Board meeting revolved around harmony and the community coming together to make the improvements possible.

Now is the perfect time for that community love as School Board members also voted overwhelmingly this week to ask residents for an additional .25 sales tax to generate what they say is needed revenue.

Superintendent Kevin George spoke glowingly — and rightfully so — about the teamwork shown by District personnel and Board members leading students to better performance.

“We started giving some accolades in the December Board meeting about some of the progress that we have made,” George said. “We are ecstatic with our growth. It’s great to see principals who work hard every single day, teachers who work hard every single day — all of our staff members, from our custodians to our secretaries, of course our students who file in and listen to their teachers, our paraprofessionals, just everyone. When it comes to moving a school system forward, it takes everyone working as one.”

The District’s ranking signaled the first time the District earned the B distinction, scoring an 85.2 as its 2015 District Performance Score. It is an improvement over last year’s score of 83.1, a C.

The district features two A-rated schools: West St. John High School improved its School Performance Score more than seven points to a 106 to join John L. Ory Communications Magnet School in the A category. Ory Magnet has maintained its A-rating for four consecutive years.

Two schools showed double-digit growth. West St. John Elementary School grew 16.6 points, while Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School improved 15 points.

School Board members met Thursday at West St. John Elementary in the very location much of the District’s best work is taking place.

“I would like to thank a group that doesn’t get a lot of credit when you are talking about schools and students and how they achieve,” George said Thursday. “I would like to thank this (School) Board for giving us the opportunity to lead and run our schools and to make decisions to move our District forward.

“As I go around the state and talk to various superintendents, they talk about the struggles they may have with their (School) Board and I just look back and smile because I am not in that situation here.”

It’s a good thing, as School Board members, the superintendent and the rest of those in the administration take on the task of generating support for the tax.

St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools gave many people a lot to smile about by improving its 2015 District Performance Score more than 2 points. Now its power brokers hope to cash in the goodwill to fund what they say is a needed shortfall in operating revenue.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.