Despite strong financial reserves and a recent upgrade in its credit rating, the Central School Board on Monday postponed for at least year repaving much of the parking lot at Central High School and buying larger classroom buildings for Bellingrath Hills and Tanglewood elementary schools.
The attack of thriftiness was prompted by the possibility of further cuts to education being discussed by the state Legislature.
“I’ve been down there in the Legislature, and I often am shaking my head,” School Board member Jim Gardner said.
“I say we put this off a year to see how this budget is going down,” board member Willard Easley said.
Though not his recommendation, Superintendent Michael Faulk went along with postponing the construction projects, saying he shares the board members’ concern. He told them the combination of already approved cuts, prospective ones and the loss of money to virtual charter schools could shrink state education funding to Central by nearly $1 million.
Bids had already been opened on both of the projects postponed Monday. The board ended up rejecting all bids.
In the case of the Central High parking lot, Faulk said the school system may have make extra patches and repairs so the current parking lot makes it another year. In the case of Bellingrath Hills and Tanglewood elementary schools, the four proposed new classroom buildings were an attempt to prepare for expected enrollment growth over the next eight to 10 years, especially in the early grades.
The bid processes on both projects were hampered by bidders who failed to follow the rules. Three of the seven bids on the Central High parking lot project were deemed problematic as was one of the five bids for the new elementary classrooms.
In the case of Central High, the three problem bids were the cheapest, but the companies had all failed to provide the necessary documents.
Engineer Michael LeBas judged Metairie-based Command Construction Inc.’s $775,000 bid as “the lowest responsive and responsible bid,” but the bid was $36,000 above his project cost estimate. If Baton Rouge-based Industrial Enterprises Inc. had provided all the necessary documents, its $611,000 bid, some $127,000 below LeBas’ estimate, would have won.
The financial news on Monday, however, was not all bad. Central learned that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s has upgraded Central’s rating from A+ to AA-. The upgrade means property taxpayers will see lower millages over time to pay off already approved school construction bonds. One recently refinanced bond will cost taxpayers about $473,000 less over time in taxes.
Grant Schlueter, a bonding attorney with Foley & Judell, said most school districts are struggling to maintain their ratings.
“To increase your bond rating is rare,” Schlueter said.
Easley credited the school district’s conservative budgeting approach.
“When you see the state’s bond rating going down and ours going up, I’m extremely proud of that,” he said.
In other business, the Central School Board changed the 2016-17 calendar so that spring break occurs April 14-21 to put it in line with other school districts in the area.
Faulk said he was asked by several parents to look at the calendar again.