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The former site of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Kenner.

Think cities should continually improve public schools and neighborhoods?

Orleans Parish School Board could collect $18 million to enhance its schools without raising anyone’s taxes. If done correctly, it would increase neighborhood property values in the process. The first step is looking next door at what the City of Kenner did with one Archdiocese school, and then multiply it.

As reported in this newspaper, a developer purchased a school property from the Archdiocese and plans to turn the site into 42 homes. That one development will bring in significant property taxes because the 9-acre site comes off tax-free rolls and gets placed into tax-paying commerce.

The Archdiocese pocketed $1.9 million from the sale, and the developer plans to spend another $2 million on construction of the 42 houses, which will generate substantial sales taxes. Then 42 families will arrive with disposable incomes and pay lots of sales and property taxes to Kenner and Jefferson Parish.

The newly-elected New Orleans City Council and Orleans Parish School Board should develop the process together and replicate because both will benefit.

Before Katrina, in the 2004-05 school year, more than 65,000 students were enrolled in New Orleans Public Schools; today, it’s down to about 49,000. That’s a 25% decrease in student population, so there’s less need for as many school buildings.

OPSB has a dozen or so properties scattered throughout the city no longer in use and has been spending $350,000 per year for minimal maintenance on them. The Times-Picayune covered this story in October 2019, and not much has changed except OPSB spending $700,000 or more maintaining the no-longer-needed properties.

Before any of the 12 properties can be sold, they must be declared “surplus property,” a legal designation, by a board vote. If the district no longer has a use for a property, it must first be offered to charter schools for use before being auctioned off. OPSB can also trade land with another governmental agency like the city.

When OPSB surplus properties are sold and put into commerce, in addition to the $18 million of assessed values that OPSB should receive from the sales, the city and schools will receive annual property tax revenue as each goes onto the tax rolls. Property tax millages fund OPSB, city government, police, fire, libraries; the Sewerage and Water Board, Orleans Levee Board, and others, too.

No new commercial development or rezoning of property can occur in neighborhoods as long as a public school is on the books. Zoning in neighborhoods where schools are located allow very restricted uses almost as if a church were present.

A developer has to work with the district council member for zoning changes and follow protocols through the City Planning Commission for their desired changes.

If rezoning takes place in a neighborhood, expect property values to increase, and if properties are renovated as a result of the rezoning, sales taxes increase for the city.

If the mayor and City Council want to develop affordable housing to replace any surplus school location, the zoning process provides for community input.

By selling unneeded properties, OPSB would have new money to reinvest in other buildings to improve and better equip facilities for students as well as have funding available for school repairs and building replacements.

Some of the OPSB empty properties and their assessed values: Paul B. Habans Elementary on Herschel Street, $5.18 million; Israel M. Augustine Middle on S. Broad Street, $4.41 million; John Dibert Elementary on Orleans Avenue, $3.17 million; Moton Elementary on Abundance Street, $1.72 million; and A.P. Tureaud Elementary on Pauger Street, $1.5 million.

The rest of the surplus is valued under a million dollars for each: Valena C. Jones on N Galvez Street, Thomy Lafon on Seventh Street, custodial cottage at McDonough 15 on Bourbon Street, Thomas Alva Edison Elementary on Forstall Street, Johnson C. Lockett Elementary on Law Street, J.B. Noble Special on Dubreuil Street, and four lots on Bodenger Boulevard.

If district council members want to rid neighborhoods of vacant schools, many which are eyesores, and improve quality of life, they’ll begin contacting School Board members.

The properties' assessed values are a few years old and the market has risen dramatically, so $18 million may be a low figure for improvements. Now is a good time for the new council to start new beginnings by improving schools and neighborhoods on their first day in office.

Email Garey Forster at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.


Garey Forster is former chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a former Louisiana Secretary of Labor. His column runs weekly. Email him at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.