More details shared on taxes, new campus

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Early voting is underway in Ward 2, where voters are being asked to decide the fate of two tax extensions dedicated to school construction.

The taxes were approved in 2001 to fund construction of Jennings High School on North Sherman Street. This money was also dedicated to renovating the former high school on Florence Street to be used for students in grades three through six.

If extended, revenue from those two taxes would fund construction of a Jennings campus on South Lake Arthur Avenue for students in grade pre-K through six, as well as fund demolition of any unused sites on the James Ward and Jennings Elementary campuses.

Jennings Daily News invited readers to submit questions to the newspaper regarding the taxes and campus proposal. Those questions were then presented for answers to Kirk Credeur, superintendent of parish schools. Below are the submitted questions and Credeur’s answers.

Election Day is March 30. Early voting kicked off Saturday and will continue March 18-23. Early ballots can be cast from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Jeff Davis Parish Registrar of Voters office on Cutting Avenue in Jennings.

How can we pay for a new school when the bonds for Jennings High School (JHS) have not yet been paid off and will not be paid off until 2023? Would that mean property owners would be paying 26 mills (13 + 13) through 2023?

CREDEUR: “Citizens will not pay both millages. The goal is to restructure a new plan using existing collections of sales tax revenue in addition to future millage and sales tax collections at the current rate to pay for the new school and improvements. The school board’s bonding attorneys and municipal adviser have reviewed the calculations and approve our ability to do so.”

Is the 13 mills property tax locked in for a term? What is that term? If not, what can happen to the property tax?

CREDEUR: “The millage is not legally capped in the proposal because the law will not allow the use of such language. The Jefferson Davis Parish School Board, however, working with our municipal advisor and bonding attorneys has developed a bond issue that the debt service can be met with a district sales tax and the annual levy of 13 mills over the life of the bonds.”

When do the current sales tax and millage expire?

CREDEUR: “Currently the property tax millages for the JHS Bond will expire at the conclusion of the 2023 tax roll. The half-cent sales tax will expire no later than 2027. However, the sales tax can be retired at some point in time when enough sales tax revenue has been collected to retire the remainder of the bond issue.”

The sales tax does not expire until 2027. Why was it not set up to expire the same time as the millage?

CREDEUR: “The original JHS propositions included a 20-year general obligation millage and a 25-year halfcent sales tax. They were purposely established that way to be able to generate money to begin the construction of a new elementary campus and stabilize the millage rate.”

Are projected revenues from the two tax extensions being calculated based on current sales tax and millage revenues, or based on numbers used in 2001?

CREDEUR: “Projected revenues are based on a variety of variables reviewed by bonding attorneys and municipal advisers which includes consideration of historic data (five-year trends), current data and projections.”

If the taxes do not pass again because voters do not support proposed plans, can the school board develop a different proposal for voters before the taxes expire?

CREDEUR: “If the proposed plan is not successful, the school board may or may not choose to move forward with another option.”

What assurance do we have that the abandoned schools (Jennings Elementary and James Ward) will be demolished?

CREDEUR: “We have budgeted in the bond proposal the necessary funds to demolish any unused sites. It should be noted that the old James Ward property located on South Wilbert D. Rochelle Drive is currently obligated in a buy/sell agreement with a Jennings resident. That property will be owned by that resident in approximately four months.”

How much would it cost to renovate the two elementary campuses we have instead of building a new one?

CREDEUR: “It depends on the extent of renovation that is incurred at each building. There are building code enforcements required by law that add significant costs depending upon the renovation level of the project, as well as common hidden costs that are only detectable during the deconstruction phase. It is widely established that extensive renovations are generally 1.2-1.5 times the cost of new construction due to the labor of retrofitting for proper accessibility, fire, hurricane, HVAC and safety issues now required by law.”

Are there projected costs of potential savings if the district is utilizing one new building compared to two older buildings?

CREDEUR: “It is difficult to give exact savings on a building that has not been built. However, it is safe to assume that a single building designed to utilize efficient water-saving fixtures, highly efficient SER-rated HVAC systems, LED lighting, low-maintenance flooring, solar reflecting glass, insulated wall partitions, etc. will generate significant cost/labor savings over the life span of the school as compared to the maintenance costs of two highly inefficient buildings.”

How much more money will the district be paying each year for bus transportation in Jennings if all elementary kids are being bused compared to what it is paying now? This includes any increase in fuel costs, maintenance, salaries and benefits.

CREDEUR: “Looking purely at the cost and not considering the safety aspects for children, the total estimated cost for adding a new bus, driver/benefits/maintenance is approximately $44,000 a year. It should be noted, however, that all current transportation expenses of Jennings students does not come out of the Ward 2 (Jennings) budget. Transportation is a General Fund expense.”

With so many children at one school, how would this affect staffing?

CREDEUR: “Staffing would not be affected. The district has been utilizing a staffing formula that identifies how many teachers/ administrators all schools are allotted since the early 1990’s. We review and make necessary adjustments to staff twice a year. If the same number of students attending school does not change, then the number of teachers required to teach them does not change. Any addition or elimination of teacher/administrative positions are governed by the school board members.”

If the taxes pass again, what is the estimated time frame for construction to begin?

CREDEUR: “If the project is approved we will immediately start selling bonds and instruct the architect to begin comprehensive plans. Barring any unforeseen and complicating issues, construction could begin within a year.”

How long was it before the current JHS campus was opened following voters’ approval of the two taxes in November 2001?

CREDEUR: “Students began moving into the school during the 2004-2005 school year.”

Has an appraisal value or estimated value of the 20 acres of land on South Lake Arthur Avenue been determined?

CREDEUR: “An appraisal was conducted on the proposed property, with its value determined to be $119,000.”

How did the school board look for available property when considering where a school should be built? Did it research what properties were available for sale or approach landowners to see if they would be interested in selling?

CREDEUR: “Ward 2 committee members debated the pros and cons of several properties. Owners/trusts were contacted to determine potential land availability. We were also contacted by several land owners with potential sites and were given leads by numerous community members.”

Why not build the new campus on the current JES site on Florence Street?

(Editor’s note: The following information was provided during a Ward II Committee meeting held Feb. 5. The information was originally published in the Feb. 7 edition of Jennings Daily News.)

Construction at JES would have to be completed around current structures, putting the new building in the area of the track. The old building would then be demolished, leaving what architect Steven Hotard described as a “very large front yard.” Any future expansion would have to be added to the front of the new building. A road would need to be installed around the campus to remove car lines from surrounding streets. The road could be substantial in width rather than length to accommodate restricted campus space.

Assistant Superintendent John Hall said foot and auto traffic must be taken into consideration, which would double with all elementary students and school employees being at the same campus. This was cited as the major concern if the new campus was placed at the JES site, which is in a high-density residential area.

Another concern voiced at the meeting was performing major construction on the JES campus while school is in session.

When the 2001 taxes were passed, the proposition stated some of the tax revenues would be used to renovate the current JES to accommodate grades 3-6. Why were funds used for renovations if JES was not meant to serve as a longterm school site?

CREDEUR: “During the time in question, it should be noted that the old Jennings High on Florence Street was being prepared to house elementary students for the first time in its history. Because of this new configuration, there was a need to expand the cafeteria, add fire safety systems, reconfigure classrooms, improve air conditioning units, etc. to prepare the building to accommodate a much younger student with very different needs. Those changes have served our young students well for the past 15-plus years.”

Has a traffic study been planned with the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD)? If so, when will this take place?

CREDEUR: “The DOTD traffic study has been ordered. The traffic studies usually takes 6-8 weeks. We have requested a DOTD study to reveal the challenges and have built into the overall school costs various solutions if they are deemed necessary.”

Is there adequate water supply for student body use and firefighting?

CREDEUR: “The current water supply line is of adequate size, gallon-perminute flow rate and static pressure necessary to supply the school with usable and fire sprinkler system water, with no anticipated additional infrastructure costs requirements by the city.”

Is there currently adequate sewer capacity? If not, how will it be improved and who will pay for it?

CREDEUR: “The current sewer line capacity is of adequate size for the requirements of the school, with no anticipated additional infrastructure cost requirements by the city.”

Has drainage been studied and a plan formulated to address drainage on the 20-acre site on South Lake Arthur Avenue?

CREDEUR: “Proper drainage is an important aspect of the project and will need to be studied thoroughly if the bond issue is successful. We do have various solutions available at our disposal if drainage is determined to be problematic.”