A narrowly divided Jefferson Parish School Board voted late Tuesday to dedicate 12 of 20 acres of land it owns in north Kenner as the future home of Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies, whose 790 students in sixth through 12th grades attend a campus that many feel is outdated and needs more room to expand.
The vote was 5-4.
The remaining eight acres at Vintage and Loyola drives will eventually host a new K-8 campus, according to the measure sponsored by School Board member Marion “Coach” Bonura, which is contingent on the public’s approving a bond issue and property tax increase that would pay for at least $200 million in new or renovated facilities for the school system.
School Board members had decided last month to put that bond issue and property tax raise up for a public vote on April 9, but on Tuesday they canceled that election. Officials said they now are aiming for a Dec. 10 election date, in part to put the initiative on a higher-turnout ballot that is expected to feature a runoff for the U.S. Senate seat David Vitter last fall announced he would be vacating.
Board members also said they plan to work with the system’s administration to devise a bond issue and property tax increase package that could raise up to $250 million for building projects.
Bonura’s measure drew support from colleagues Cedric Floyd, Ray St. Pierre, Melinda Doucet and Ricky Johnson. All belong to a board faction that is backed by the Jefferson teachers’ union.
It was opposed by Melinda Bourgeois, Larry Dale, Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge — all of whom belong to a board faction backed by the parish’s business community — as well as swing vote Mark Morgan.
Those in favor of the measure said Haynes’ computer and science labs lack basic modern equipment and amenities while its library, band room and classrooms are too cramped to hold all the teenagers and preteens who study at the magnet school’s campus on Metairie Road.
Others said the facility is a throwback to the 1970s and the busy neighborhood surrounding the campus prevents it from expanding.
Despite all those drawbacks, Haynes finished 2015 as the highest-rated public school in Jefferson, and it is consistently one of the state’s best academic performers, supporters noted. They said a new campus would enable Haynes to reach new heights.
Morgan, however, said he would prefer to provide space for a modern campus for students who are at more of an academic disadvantage than those at Haynes, who pass an admission test for a spot at the school and work at least a grade level above the average pupil.
“You don’t give them all the system’s resources when they have so many natural advantages,” said Morgan, who also theorized that part of what inspires the students at Haynes to excel is the no-frills environment their campus presents them.
Bosarge said she’d prefer to wait until the completion of a district-wide capital improvement plan — expected in March — before dedicating the land to a specific purpose.
But Bonura said his measure was prepared in consultation with the district’s facilities department. “This is a no-brainer,” he said. “There should be nothing but a 9-0 vote here tonight.”
Previously, both the Jefferson Parish Council and Kenner City Council had asked the School Board to reserve the tract at Loyola and Vintage so that the increasingly popular Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy could build a campus there for students from pre-K through 12th grade.
Kenner Discovery — which received an A rating from the state in 2015 — began the academic year with more than 800 students in pre-K through eighth grade and has a waiting list of 750, the Parish Council’s resolution said. It said the tract at Loyola and Vintage is one of the few spots around that could host a facility accommodating 1,900 students.
No one, however, mentioned Kenner Discovery at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Bosarge said there is land next to the board’s 20-acre tract that could be purchased for the academy’s expansion, but it is too early to know whether the school would wait for that possibility or search for another site.