Despite some dissension among members about the timing, the Jefferson Parish School Board soon will make another attempt to give preliminary approval to a bond issue of up to $50 million for proposed capital improvements.
The board has moved up its meeting this month from March 18 to Tuesday so it can meet a deadline for the State Bond Commission to consider the issue at its meeting in April.
The bond issue — backed by an existing sales tax — would help the School Board partially finance $128 million in repairs, renovations and construction at public school campuses across Jefferson Parish.
Board members on Tuesday also may take action on a resolution that would allow the school system to sell $27.5 million worth of bonds that already are authorized and that also would finance building upgrades. That money was part of an earlier $50 million bond issue, of which the board so far has sold only $22.5 million.
The School Board on Feb. 12 held a special meeting to vote on the new bond issue, but only four of the panel’s nine members showed up, leaving it without a quorum.
School Board President Cedric Floyd said after the meeting that he and his colleagues would try again to take action on that measure before March 17, the agenda deadline for the Bond Commission’s April 16 meeting.
The School Board must approve a resolution and supply a list of the capital projects to be financed before it can get on the commission’s agenda.
Some board members have said they would prefer to wait until a new schools superintendent and chief financial officer are in place before moving ahead with the new bond issue.
The resolution for the issue says the annual interest rate would not exceed 6 percent and the bonds would mature in no more than 20 years.
The current market interest rate for this type of bond issue is about 3 percent, said Grant Schlueter, an attorney with the firm Foley & Judell, which is working with the board.
Proposed capital improvements that address life-safety issues and ensure code compliance receive the highest priority from the School Board. Ranked lower are those that would create recurring savings or improve a building’s appearance or convenience.
Money from the previously authorized $50 million issue was designated for capital improvements in general but so far has been earmarked primarily for technology.
A member of the pro-teachers union majority on the board, Melinda Doucet, said selling the remaining bonds from the existing issue at this time would ensure each of the system’s schools has the same wireless Internet capability and an equal level of bandwidth, essentially meaning that all students would have online access at the same time and speed.
“We wouldn’t pick which campuses would be better off with technology,” Doucet said. “It would be an even playing field.”
As for the new bond issue, she said the highest priority for that money would go to projects that ensure campuses are hurricane-ready, which would help the board’s insurance rating.
Larry Dale and Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge — members of the board’s pro-business community minority — acknowledged that some of the system’s buildings badly need work. But both said they would rather have a permanent superintendent and a permanent chief financial officer in place before putting the bond issue in motion.
James Meza, who was brought in as superintendent in 2011, retired in late January. Robert Fulton retired as chief financial officer days later. Michelle Blouin-Williams and Elizabeth Smith are acting as superintendent and CFO, respectively.
Dale said Friday, “I just want (permanent people) in place to make sure we do the right thing, and it’s fiscally responsible.”