School plan updated at low-key town hall

Wade McIntyre
Ascension School Superintendent Donald Songy addressed a crowd of about 50 people at St. Amant High School Monday, explaining what will be accomplished if voters approve a $100 million millage extension on the Oct. 17 ballot to upgrade older parish schools.

The second town-hall style meeting conducted by Ascension Parish School Board officials to inform voters about a $100 million millage extension which will fund upgrades for aged parish schools drew around 50 interested persons Monday at the St. Amant High School Cafetorium.

Superintendent Donald Songy reminded the crowd that the millage does not call for new taxes, but is rather an extension of the 15.08 millage rate voters approved in 2005 to build new schools in the parish.

Songy stressed that the $100 million from the proposed extension on the Oct. 17 ballot represents a paired down wish of improvements that would have cost $240 million.

The board was unable to bond out $240 million without raising the millage tax, so it cut back planned projects to $100 million, the amount it’s bonding attorney said it could successfully finance without raising taxes.

“We know that in these economic times it is just too much to ask people to raise their taxes,” the superintendent said.

The board decided to deal with the oldest facilties if the proposition passes.

“It doesn’t fix everything,” Songy said. “But it fixes the most critical areas in the parish.”

Major elements of the plan include constructing a new G.W. Carver Primary for $16 million, and upgradng Prairieville Middle and Gonzales Primary with with $15 million and $9.2 million major renovations, respectively.

Another key element of the upgrade is to eliminate costly temporary buildings, some of which are over 30 years old. This will be done by expanding the “hard capacity” of exisitng schools to allow larger student enrollments.

Severely overcrowded Dutchtown Middle, for example, will receive a new library, expanded cafeteria, new classrooms, additions and renovations to the gym, plus other infrastructure improvements.

Schools throughout the parish will receive updated electrical infrastructure, especially critical in many school classes not yet “hard-wired” for new technology and laptop computers used every day by students.

An wireless upgrade for the school district data network will usher in plans to have computers for ever student on all campuses, and security cameras will be installed at all schools.

Songy on Monday said school officials have yet to encounter any organized opposition to the $100 millage extension proposal.

“Only a handful have even questioned it,” he said.

Apathy, complacency or residents who are just to busy to vote appear to be the only things that could hurt the propostion at the polls, he said.

After the session, School Board President Ed Price said area residents recognize that the school system has good schools and people, and that it means a lot to voters when they learn that the propostion will not raise people’s taxes.

“We just hope people get out and vote,” he said.

Songy indicated the propostion is getting “a lot of support politically” from residents in areas where the oldest schools are located.

“We think they are going to work to get the vote out,” he said.

A third town-hall meeting was held at Dutchtown High Thursday night, and the fourth session will be at Donaldsonville High Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Songy and Assistant School Superintendent Patrice Pujol have also been speaking regularly to Rotary Clubs, area Chamber groups and other organizations regarding the proposition.