The Jefferson Parish School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the State Bond Commission to authorize the board to sell $50 million in bonds for capital improvement projects at local schools. The bonds would be backed by an existing half-cent sales tax.
The board approved the proposal 9-0 at a special meeting, even though some members earlier had suggested waiting until a permanent superintendent and chief financial officer are selected before proceeding with the sale.
The board’s vote is only a preliminary step, for the bonds can’t be issued until the board comes up with a list of specific projects with timelines and costs. But approval of the request could shave a couple of months off the process and ensure projects can move forward quickly once they are identified, proponents said.
Tuesday’s meeting was moved to an earlier date to be sure the Bond Commission can vote on the authorization at its April meeting.
When the bonds ultimately are issued, proceeds will go toward $128 million in repairs, renovations and construction projects at public schools throughout the parish.
The higher-priority projects on that list address life-safety issues and ensure code compliance, while projects that improve a facility’s appearance or convenience are ranked lower.
Board member Melinda Bourgeois said at an earlier Executive Committee meeting that she planned to propose an amendment to the request that would require the board to wait on choosing specific projects until former Superintendent James Meza and former CFO Robert Fulton are replaced.
Board President Cedric Floyd, however, called that a stall tactic. He said previous projects were selected while Meza, who was initially brought in on an interim basis before being hired full-time, was not in place strictly according to state guidelines.
Michelle Blouin-Williams is now acting as superintendent, and Fulton has been replaced on an interim basis. A new superintendent is expected to be found by mid-April.
According to the resolution approved by the board, the annual interest rate on the bonds cannot exceed 6 percent — the current rate for such bonds is about 3 percent — and the bonds would mature in no more than 20 years.
Under questioning from board member Mark Morgan, Grant Schlueter, an attorney with Foley & Judell, the board’s bond attorneys, said that even if the board were to issue all $50 million of the bonds in the next two years, the system’s annual debt service would stay at about $12 million. Otherwise, it is expected to drop to $8.5 million as older projects are paid off.
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