ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana School Board agreed Tuesday to issue $30 million in bonded debt, part of a larger bond issue that will be used to build a new elementary school and freshman academy as well as fund other school improvement projects.
Voters in May approved a temporary, estimated 9.95-mill property tax increase to fund a $52.6 million bond issue for the district.
By state law, the school district has to spend any funds gained from bond issues within 3 years. The district plans to sell the bonds in increments, with the one the board approved Tuesday being the first.
In December, property owners in the district will see a property tax increase for just the amount needed to cover the $30 million the board will be borrowing.
The amount of the tax increase won’t be known until September, when the district will find out the exact interest rate and amount of the bond sale, and property tax assessments are complete, school district Finance Director Misty Cook said.
School officials estimate the tax will be around 6 mills, she said.
The remaining tax increase will not take effect until the district sells the rest of the bonds and the higher tax rates will remain in effect until the district pays off the bonds, within 30 years.
The district doesn’t plan to sell any more bonds for 15 to 18 months, Superintendent Hollis Milton said.
The largest share of the money, about $42 million, is earmarked for building a new elementary school to replace 56-year-old Bains Elementary. A demographic survey commissioned by the school system projects that, because of growth in the district, Bains will be overcrowded within five years. Other projects that will be funded by the bond issue include building a freshman academy for $6 million, $500,000 in renovations to the West Feliciana High School auditorium, and improvements to the high school’s career and technical education building that are expected to cost $3 million.
Last month, the school board voted to buy a 42-acre piece of land near West Feliciana Middle School and fronting US 61 on which to build the new elementary school.
The sale has been finalized, with the district paying $850,000 for the land, Cook said Tuesday.
That money is not included in the bond issue; instead, the school system used its surplus funds to buy the property.
Jesse Perkins of Volkert Inc., the construction management firm assisting the district with the projects, told the board that last week the district received 15 responses to its request for qualifications for architectural firms.
The architectural design committee — which includes board members Angie Norwood and Helen Whitfield, employees of the school district and Milton — will meet Thursday to review the candidates. The committee will make a hiring recommendation to the school board at the board’s next scheduled meeting on Aug. 20.
Within a year, the architectural firm chosen will begin to bid out the construction work, Perkins said.
In related business, the board voted to hire another first grade teacher before school starts if the need arises. Based on projected enrollment, the first grade is already at a student-teacher ratio of 24-1, which is too close for comfort to the state requirement of 26-1, Milton said.
Currently, the district has seven first-grade teachers.
The district had the third highest Louisiana Educational Assessment Program scores in the state, according to results released last week, and that educational excellence is part of the driving force behind the growth, he said.