Beginning on Saturday, voters in eastern Ouachita Parish will entertain a proposition that would allow the Ouachita Parish School Board to incur $20 million in debt to tackle construction projects east of the Ouachita River.
Early voting for the Dec. 11 primary election begins Saturday and concludes Dec. 4, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day except Sunday, Nov. 28.
Last year, voters in the East Ouachita Parish School District approved the School Board’s request to incur $42 million in general obligation bonds for projects like the Sterlington Middle School.
That $42-million bond issue was not enough money to pay for the School Board’s project wish list, given the rising cost of materials, school officials say.
“The reason we need the additional money is because the cost of materials went up and they’re not coming down,” said School Board member Dabo Graves. “With the COVID pandemic, the prices just jumped on us. It went from $120 a square foot to $185 a square foot.”
In August, the School Board rejected a bid to build a new Sterlington Middle School for $27 million because the bid exceeded the project’s original budget of some $18 million. At a new Sterlington Middle School facility, the School Board hopes to house 600 students on 40 acres.
“We need that junior high school badly,” Graves said. “The school we have is rotting away and has wires hanging. We spend more money on repairs for that middle school than any other school. We probably spent $500,000 on repairs last year.”
When East Ouachita Middle School was advertised for bids in 2018, the School Board accepted an $18-million bid for a facility holding up to 700 students on 55 acres.
School Board President Jerry Hicks said a new middle school was needed in Sterlington to accommodate growth in the northeastern parts of the parish.
“Right now, if you’re doing any work in construction, you know the cost of materials,” Hicks said. “It’s tough times, but our community has supported our system for many years. We’ve been good stewards of the money.”
The East Ouachita School District currently has some $121 million in outstanding debt. Any new general obligation bonds would raise that figure, though some old debts are expected to roll off in the coming years.
“This tax initiative will result in no increase in the current millage being paid by the east Ouachita taxpayers which is currently 36 mills,” said School Board Vice President Greg Manley. “In discussing with our bonding attorney, we are able to present this tax proposal with no increase in taxes as a result of paying off two existing east side bonds within the next couple of years.”
Manley thanked voters for their past support of the School Board’s tax propositions.
General obligation bonds are not secured by tax revenues but guaranteed through the governing entity’s authority to levy taxes. That means the governing entity can use any resources to repay the debt, even if paying creditors would require raising taxes.
“The additional $20 million generated by this tax will provide sufficient funding to complete all the building projects previously approved by the voters in 2020,” Manley said. “Unfortunately the increase in construction costs over the last 12 months is requiring us to bring this bond initiative before the voters for this additional funding.”
The proposition is reprinted below:
Shall East Ouachita Parish School District of the Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana (the “District”), incur debt and issue bonds not exceeding $20,000,000, in one or more series, to run not exceeding 20 years from date thereof, with interest at a rate not exceeding 8 percent per annum, for the purpose of acquiring and/or improving lands for building sites and playgrounds; including construction of necessary sidewalks and streets adjacent thereto; purchasing, erecting and/or improving school buildings and other school related facilities for the District, including, to the extent feasible, those specific school projects in the “Capital Improvements Plan” approved by the School Board on January 14, 2020, and acquiring the necessary equipment and furnishings therefor, title to which shall be in the public; which bonds will be general obligations of the District payable from ad valorem taxes levied and collected in the manner provided by Article VI, Section 33 of the Constitution of the State of Louisiana of 1974 and statutory authority supplemental thereto, with no estimated increase in the millage rate to be levied in the first year of issue above the 36 mills currently being levied to pay General Obligation Bonds of the District?