The Ascension Parish school system is asking voters on April 9 to extend a 15.08-mill property tax to build four schools along with a list of other projects in a district that’s growing by 500 to 600 students each year.
The 20-year tax has been renewed three times — in 1999, 2005 and 2009 — when from 72 percent to 82 percent of the voters approved it.
If renewed, the millage, which will expire in 2036, will allow the School Board to issue $120 million in bonds for major construction and renovation projects. The bonds will be paid back with revenue generated by the tax.
“We live in a parish that is steadily increasing in population with many residents choosing to move here because of our high quality teachers and schools,” said A. Denise Graves, acting school superintendent. “As a result, we have seven campuses that are overcrowded and an acute need to build new schools.”
If voters approve the proposal, the district plans to build three primary schools: one on Germany Road for $17.8 million; one on La. 73 for $16.6 million and one on Bullion Crossing for $16.1 million; and a middle school on Bluff Road for $29.3 million.
The bond money also would pay the $2 million it will cost for a site plan for a future high school. Construction of the school would require another bond issue.
If voters approve the proposal, the district also will be able to complete the freshman academy buildings at East Ascension, St. Amant and Dutchtown high schools; renovate Donaldsonville High School’s library into classroom and office space; and renovate the district’s Head Start building in Donaldsonville.
Renovations also would be made at Dutchtown Primary, Lowery Middle School and the APPLe Digital Academy, the district’s alternative school in Darrow. Prairieville Middle School would get a new gym.
Districtwide, all elementary schools’ outdoor play areas would be covered and school security projects would be completed if the proposal is approved.
A dedicated property tax to pay for school construction has been on the books at varying millage rates in Ascension Parish for more than 30 years.
If the 15.08 millage is renewed, homeowners with a $200,000 home and a homestead exemption — the average home sales prices in the parish is $228,000 — would pay $188 a year for the property tax, said Ascension Parish’s Chief Deputy Assessor Justin Champlin.
School Board President Pat Russo, who’s in her 18th year as a board member, said the district began to see “constant growth” in student enrollment about 10 years ago.
“I feel like as our schools started seeing improvements, more growth came in,” Russo said.
The district, which serves about 22,000 students in 16 elementary schools, seven middle schools and four high schools, is ranked fourth in the state in performance by the Louisiana Department of Education.
Twelve of its 27 schools have earned an A from the state, and the district has no schools that are failing.
“People always say they came because of the education,” Russo said.
School officials estimate enrollment will increase by 33 percent over the next 10 years.
Planning and Construction Director Chad Lynch said the 43 new subdivisions that have been permitted by the parish will mean 6,000 new homes in the coming years as construction begins.
How the new subdivisions will affect school enrollment “depends on how fast they’re built,” Lynch said at a School Board meeting in January.
In recent weeks, the School Board presented its case for the bond proposal at forums around the parish.
The Ascension Parish Republican Party executive committee, which in recent years has opposed new parishwide governmental taxes, “had a very good meeting with the School Board,” Chairwoman Kathryn Goppelt said.
“They brought a lot of financial information that we requested,” said Goppelt, a longtime critic of parish government, who ran unsuccessfully for parish president in 2011.
“We decided not to oppose the tax, but not support it either,” Goppelt said of the proposed renewal.
“We know this dilemma (of growing student enrollment) is not something they created,” she said. “It has to do with the unprecedented growth in Ascension Parish.”
The Republican Party executive committee “strongly encouraged” the school district to “work together with the Ascension Parish government and the parish Planning and Zoning Commission to try to get a school impact fee passed to help with the cost of new schools,” Goppelt said.
While there’s been some discussion of adding different types of impact fees, the only one now under consideration by the Parish Council is a road impact fee.
Under the current proposal, the fees would be charged to developers and builders of the new subdivisions. Critics from the home building industry contend those fees ultimately would be passed on to homeowners.
“We need a school impact fee,” Goppelt said. “We think the developers and people moving in should help.”