Decision near on asking Lafayette voters to approve new taxes to pay for new schools, system improvements _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Don Aguillard discussed his plans for the upcoming school year during a May 21 interview in his office.

A long-awaited decision on seeking new taxes to pay for new Lafayette schools, security and technology upgrades and renovations across the school district could come Monday.

The Lafayette Parish School Board is meeting in special session Monday to consider a proposal by the school system’s staff for a combination of a new 16-mill property tax and a half-cent sales tax. The board also will receive information on a range of property tax and sales tax increases that could fund projects, as well.

“It’s a possible blended proposal that would accomplish the maximum amount of projects and programs,” Superintendent Donald Aguillard said of the staff’s recommendation.

The half-cent sales tax would generate about $26 million annually for pay-as-you-go projects, Aguillard said. Of that, $10 million would be set aside for a major project in the district each year, such as replacing portable buildings with permanent classrooms, based on information from the board’s agenda.

The remaining $16 million would fund educational programs, such as the purchase of textbooks, technology improvements, an expansion of early childhood classes, career and technical education, and the district-wide implementation of a student leadership program called The Leader in Me, Aguillard said.

Suggested projects on the facilities list include construction of a new district stadium as a more efficient use of funding. The stadium cost, estimated at $65 million, is at the bottom of a list of 13 priority projects and would be shared by all high schools in the district. Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy does not have a stadium or field a football team, and a stadium isn’t part of the initial phase of the new high school planned for Youngsville.

Aguillard said the district stadium is a recommendation that may not pan out because the school system is in discussions with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette about the possibility of using Cajun Field.

“If we’re not building a stadium, then we could use that $60 million to build two more facilities,” Aguillard said.

The 5:30 p.m. Monday meeting will be the first time for public discussion by the full board on potential tax options, though the board has taken steps to prepare for it with a recent update to its master facilities plan with a prioritized list of projects.

At Monday’s meeting, the board will decide first whether to proceed with a potential tax election and indicate to staff its funding options for inclusion in a resolution set for board consideration at its Dec. 2 meeting. The board gave required public notice that it would consider a resolution at its Dec. 2 meeting, though there was no definitive language about a tax.

Initially, it was expected the board would meet last month in a workshop to discuss tax options, though that was pushed back to Monday — just days after voters head to the polls in a Saturday election that includes on the ballot a renewal of an existing millage that pumps $14 million annually into school system operations. The millage has been on the books for more than 40 years.

The board will consider its options at Monday’s meeting, including a breakdown of which projects could be funded based on varying millage amounts.

A 16-mill property tax could generate nearly $520 million over 30 years — enough to fund at least 13 major construction projects in the district.

A 12-mill property tax would generate nearly $390 million over 30 years and fund 10 projects, which were presented to the board in priority order as follows:

Security package — $20 million for school safety points of entry, cameras, ID entry and additional safety officers

Phase II for new Youngsville high school — $44 million for additional classrooms, a field house and auditorium (Phase I in prior bond package)

New Lafayette High School — $115 million for replacement facility

L.J. Alleman Middle — $50 million for replacement facility

New middle school adjacent to Plantation Elementary — $38 million

New Carencro Heights Elementary — $26 million for replacement facility

Broussard Middle — $15 million for new classroom wing and renovations

Phase II for Broussard elementary (Drexel) — $9 million for an additional 200 students (planned replacement facility for Drexel in prior bond package)

Replacement of HVAC equipment and air conditioning for all gyms — $12 million

Renovations and replacement of portables at all high schools — $60 million

A 14-mill property tax would generate nearly $455 million over 30 years and fund the top 10 projects, as well as two more:

A remodel and programming for W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center — $30 million

Prairie Elementary —$35 million for a replacement facility

The 16 mills would fund all of the projects, including the new district football stadium, estimated at $65 million, or two new elementary schools, both estimated at about $32.5 million.

The millage rate for property owners within the parish’s municipalities is 85.02 and 86.55 for property outside the municipalities, based on information from the Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor’s Office.

The Lafayette Parish school system receives about 39 percent of the parish property taxes — or 33.56 mills. The School Board last went to voters with a property tax increase proposal in 2011; that measure, which would have funded $561 million in construction projects, failed.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.