Without discussion, the Lafayette Parish School Board on Wednesday accepted a committee recommendation that it move forward with a tax proposal for facility improvements.
The board’s vote was merely procedural and puts the public on notice that the board plans to discuss a potential tax in future meetings, board member Justin Centanni said after the vote. Future discussions will focus on what kind of tax — property or sales — and even whether a tax goes on a ballot. Once those decisions are made, the board must decide when it would go to voters.
The vote came after the board received an updated master facilities list from Chris Pellegrin, of CSRS Inc. The report is an update of the 2010 master facilities list that identified $1 billion in needed work on school buildings. Cost estimates weren’t provided with Wednesday’s report because Pellegrin advised the board to decide which projects to target first.
In addition to a high school and a replacement campus for Drexel Elementary in Broussard, the School Board should consider building a new middle school and another new elementary school in the southern part of the parish, the consultants advised.
Pellegrin credited the school system for the work it has completed or that is still in progress — about $36 million in projects. The board also recently voted to sell $126 million in bonds to fund a new high school for Youngsville. It was recommended that a portion of the $126 million be used to pay for a replacement school for Drexel Elementary and classroom additions at Plantation Elementary and Milton Elementary/Middle school to prepare for expected enrollment boosts at southern Lafayette Parish campuses.
Board members are unified in their decision to use the bond money for the high school; however, some board members have said they’d prefer to wait for the CSRS facilities update before committing money to the other projects.
Security upgrades on campuses across the district topped the priority list presented by Pellegrin.
The consultants also recommended replacing eight schools: Lafayette High, Carencro Heights Elementary, Prairie Elementary, J.W. Faulk Elementary, S.J. Montgomery Elementary, L. Leo Judice Elementary, Truman Early Childhood Education Center and Westside Elementary.
While Lafayette High needs a new campus, additions and renovations at the school system’s other four traditional high schools — Carencro, Acadiana, Comeaux and Northside — also topped the list. David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy, a middle and high school, recently received a $9 million classroom expansion to its high school side.
Also on Wednesday, the board agreed in an 8-1 vote to distribute the excess revenue from the 2002 half-cent sales tax fund in a one-time $1,438.74 check to employees rather than a permanent $500 salary increase to the salary schedule and a lower distribution check of $449.02. The school system surveyed employees to gauge their preference, and more than 80 percent of the respondents preferred the entire distribution of nearly $1,500 rather than the salary increase and smaller check. Of the 2,179 employees eligible to receive benefits from the sales tax fund, 1,310 employees responded to the survey.
Centanni, who is also chairman of the board’s finance committee, cast the sole vote against the larger lump-sum distribution. Prior to the vote, Centanni said the tax was designed to increase teacher salaries.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.