Ascension Parish community photo gallery for Feb. 19, 2015 _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Young revelers look to toss beads during the annual walking parade of the Ascension Parish school district's Head Start program in Donaldsonville this past Mardi Gras. A recent LSU study shows that the school district has a strong positive impact on the parish's economy.

The Ascension Parish school system is a major driver of the parish's growing population, upward home values and local business outlook, an economic impact study done by an LSU research group shows. 

It's the first time the LSU Economics and Policy Research Group, an applied economics research group in the university's Department of Economics, has done such a study on a school district, said Stephen Barnes, director of the research group.

He said a good school district not only addresses education but "generates economic benefits on top of that." 

The researchers, using figures from the U.S. Census and other sources, found that 11.5% of parish residents, representing 5,100 households, moved to Ascension because of its outstanding public school system. That percentage of population growth brings its own economic output: $196 million annually in goods and services produced, in the form of business growth or new business.

It was not clear Wednesday where those families had moved from.

According to the Census, the parish had 41,884 households as of 2017. The parish's population is 124,672. 

The school district, which has earned an A from the state for the last six years, was ranked No. 2 in the state last year, holding onto its A ranking even after changes on the state level to the scoring system in the Department of Education's annual grading, as did the top-ranked Zachary school district.  

Researchers looked at Ascension Parish relative to other school districts in the nine-parish East Baton Rouge metro area.

"The fact that the school district stands out, pulls people there and pushes property values up," Barnes said. 

The Ascension Parish School Board last fall commissioned the $19,000 study, which includes a survey of close to 2,000 parents of children in the public school system. Complete details of the study will be released later this week. 

"The kids are first," School Superintendent David Alexander said. "What we've learned is that we have some indirect benefit to the community, as well."

Asked Tuesday if the study had been commissioned in advance of bringing a new tax proposition to voters in the future, Alexander, said, "No, we have nothing like that scheduled."

Other highlights of the study show that:

  • The school district annually pays $251 million in salary and labor costs that include pay for its employees, vendors and contractors. That figure translates into $421 million in economic output, the value of goods and services produced in the parish, whether it's a grocery store adding employees because business is good or a contractor buying supplies for a work project for the school district.
  • For parents surveyed, who have children in the public schools, the school district was their highest ranked reason to live in Ascension Parish.  

Barker Dirmann, president of the Ascension Chamber of Commerce, said, "One of the main components in the growth of the parish is the high-performing school system."

Kate MacArthur, chief executive officer of the Ascension Economic Development Corp., said businesses considering moving to an area look at the local school system for two reasons: to understand the situation for its employees who would be moving there with school-age children and to gauge the quality of education for the employees the business would be hiring locally.

"It's an extra factor that helps out with the overall recruitment of a business. We've had nothing but positive impact" generated by the Ascension Parish school district, MacArthur said.   

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.