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West Feliciana School Board sets May 4 election for $52.6 million school bond issue
BY JAMES MINTON
Thursday, January 17, 2019

ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish School Board voted Tuesday to call a May 4 election on a proposed $52.6 million bond issue to build a new elementary school and make major improvements at the high school.

Consultants working with the board estimate that an additional property tax of 9.95 mills will be needed to repay the bonds for the first year after the bonds are sold. The proposition will ask voters to approve repayment over a period of up to 30 years.

The biggest share of the borrowed money, approximately $42 million, will be used to build a new school to replace Bains Elementary, which is 56 years old and is projected to be overcrowded by 2021, according to a report presented to the board Tuesday.

Superintendent Hollis Milton said the school needs extensive renovations, but doing the construction work while school is in session would create a challenge to teachers and students.

Only enough room is available on the campus for one more building wing, and renovating the school would not solve parking and other infrastructure problems, Milton said.

The new school would be built on land adjoining West Feliciana Middle School and fronting on U.S. 61, which the board hopes to buy for less than $1 million.

Milton said initial plans for the school envision one wing for grades 1-3 sharing a gym, cafeteria and other facilities with another wing to house grades 4, 5 and possibly 6.

Other improvements that could be financed with the bond proceeds include a freshman academy at the high school for $6 million, a complete renovation of the high school's career and technical education building for $3 million and a $500,000 renovation of the high school auditorium.

According to the report, a homeowner whose residence is valued at $100,000 by the parish assessor would pay an additional $25 per year in property taxes if the millage is levied at 9.95 mills.

A home valued at $200,000 would cost the owner an additional $125 per year, while a $300,000 home would result in $223 more per year in taxes.

The plan also calls for maintenance work at Bains Lower Elementary, the middle school and the high school, funded through the existing budget.

The board commissioned a demographic study and a comprehensive assessment of the school facilities to prepare for the bond issue.

The demographer estimates that an average of 90 additional students will attend each year for the next 12 years.

On another matter, six of the seven board members began their new four-year terms by re-electing Kevin Beauchamp and Milton Coats as president and vice president, respectively. The board also reappointed Emma Uhle to the District 4 seat vacated by Beth Tycer, who won re-election but resigned to take a state job.

An election to fill the remainder of the term is scheduled for March 30. Qualifying will be Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

Board members also heard a report on the audit of school finances for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2017, and ended June 30, 2018.

Auditor Rodney Combs commended the board and staff for reversing a projected $500,000 general fund deficit for the year and turning it into a $243,000 operating surplus.

Finance Director Misty Cook said the board received some extra revenue, but reversing the expected deficit was done by making conscious decisions in technology and maintenance spending that reduced overall expenses by $650,000.

Cook and Milton said the revenue increase did not result from a state decision to increase parish tax revenues from the River Bend Station power plant. That additional money was not available during the fiscal year that Combs' firm audited, they said.

Combs also said the audit showed no problems that needed to be reported to the state legislative auditor.