School Board plans proposition

Wade McIntyre
Ascension Parish School Superintendent Donald Songy Thursday formally announced the school board’s plan to extend the 15.08 millage rate for four years to raise money for improving infrastructure in parish schools. The extension will raise $100 million to fund major improvements to aged campuses without an increase in taxes.

The Ascension Parish School Board announced Thursday a $100 million initiative to be funded by extending the current 15.08 millage rate through the year 2029.

Voters in 2005 approved the current millage rate through 2025 in order to pay for five new elementary schools. The extension request will be placed on the Oct. 17 election ballot.

Flanked by school board members, parish officials and local mayors and speaking at the Gonzales Primary School where some of the older back buildings were constructed under the WPA program in 1936, Superintendent Donald Songy said the proposed initiative targets renovation and upgrading.

“It’s about old versus new, about renovation and about disparity,” he said.

The current, huge disparity existing among many parish schools leads to a system of “haves” and “have nots,” the superintendent said.

School Board President Ed Price called the bond issue one which will bring about more equity for the kids in the parish’s older schools.

Major projects under the improvement plan include constructing a new G.W. Carver Primary to replace the 53-year-old school, replacing nearly every building at 50-year-old Prairieville Middle, and replacing Gonzales Primary back buildings and renovating the main building.

Included also are expansions to existing campuses to eliminate costly temporary buildings, and create “hard capacity” facilities for expected student growth.

Electrical infrastructure will be updated at all parish schools to accommodate new technology, bringing many current school buildings inadequately hard-wired up to date.

The school district’s data network will be upgraded, allowing for wireless technology on campuses and paving the way for every student to eventually have a wireless computer.

Installation of security cameras will improve campus safety if the millage extension is approved by voters, school officials said.

The millage extension will allow the school system to make improvements through the parish without increasing taxes.

The $100 million in improvements is paired down plan from an initial wish list that would have cost around $240 million.

School officials went from campus to campus with a group of architects who came up with the higher figure, Songy said.

The only way $240 million could have been funded would have been by a tax increase, so school officials whittled the improvements down to $100 million.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said parish growth, including “5,000 to 6,000 lots approved for building” will create homes and more need for schools in the future.

He said the need for school infrastructure improvement is here. “We’re still the fastest growing parish in Louisiana,” he said.

“We’re doing this for the kids, there’s no doubt about it,” Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.

The makeover at the historic WPA constructed Gonzales Primary School will be part of a planned “dressing up” Burnside Avenue planned by the city, the mayor said.

The graphic above shows the planned renovations for Gonzales Primary School.