by Elliott Stonecipher
(This is one in a continuing series of articles concerning the Caddo Parish School Board property tax millage plan set for a May 2, 2015 election.)
The Caddo Parish School Board’s tax plan, as many of us are now aware, is exclusively about brick and mortar. If voters approve, the plan puts taxpayers on the hook for another $108,000,000 in bonded debt … for a list of three new schools plus eleven other building projects.
Time has shown that a mix of “CPSB” and “brick and mortar” means the citizenry steps off into taxation quicksand. The school board and administration have long and devoutly refused to make it their business to finally right-size the system by closing any more schools than it builds, even as its enrollment has steadily declined. Board members will have it no other way.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the administration’s “Reinvest in Caddo” Power Point sales presentation takes the low road with this stupefying headline:
“Since 2000, Caddo Parish has Closed or Repurposed 13 Schools”
In fact, we now have as many, if not more, schools than forty-five years ago, but with one-third fewer students.
Rather than use a carefully chosen date of 2000 as a baseline, and rather than use weasel words like “repurposed” – which is code for NOT closed – we should, no matter how tedious the work, reconstruct what really has, and has not, happened over time with the system’s epic collection of schools.
But first …
Before we start, taxpayers will note what the CPSB will not … our decline in prime, school-aged children. The U. S. Census Bureau, in the most recent data available, reports that between 1990 and 2013, Caddo’s number of children 5-to-14 has dropped -12.6%. To put that in context, the count of children that age in Bossier Parish had jumped +26.9%. Among those 15-to-19, Caddo’s loss was -12.8%, and Bossier’s gain +19.9%. This is our demographic reality, and the backdrop for this entire discussion.
How Many Schools Has the CPSB Closed?
The obvious baseline for this analysis is our Caddo system’s ground zero: the 1969-1970 desegregation “cross-over.” At that point, our two school systems – separate and very unequal until then – were officially shuffled together, and all the school buildings of each made available to all students.
Neither the CPSB administration nor State of Louisiana has any known, specific record of the list of schools then in operation. However, one relatively current record is a near-reconstruction, the Comprehensive Facility Assessment Report of 2010, Pages 20 and 21. Three schools which should be on the list were omitted (in 2010) owing to one having been closed, George P. Hendrix, and charter designations for two others, Linear and Linwood.
1. Shown are 70 CPSB schools operating at the time of the 1969-1970 consolidation. This includes the three schools mentioned above and the Career Center, but not the Worley Observatory, administrative / support facilities, or the 8 schools constructed after 1969-1970.
2. Those 8 “new” schools are, in the order of their construction, University, Southwood, Green Oaks, Huntington, 79th Street, Turner, Keithville, and Donnie Bickham.
3. A total of 9 schools have been closed, handed over or abandoned over the past forty-two years: 79th Street (yes, it is on the “new school” list, too), George Washington Carver, Pine Valley, Rodessa, Hosston, Laurel Street, George P. Hendrix, Linwood and Hamilton Terrace. (Not shown here, but otherwise confirmed, is that the first closure in context was George Washington Carver in 1973.)
4. Another 3 schools – West Shreveport, Central and Ingersol – have been repurposed. These could have been closed, but were instead kept in operation for other uses.
5. Another 3 schools – Linear, Hillsdale and Newton Smith – are now charters which the tax plan lists as “still under CPSB.”
6. Moved into the question mark column are 2 schools – original Oak Park and M. J. Moore – which have been leased. Taxpayers continue to pay unspecified costs, and there is no publicly available data as to those facts or the lease term.
7. New to Caddo’s list of school facilities are “Academic Recovery / Community Ombudsman,” “Pathways in Education” and “Jobs Corps Opportunity Center.” The CPSB website of its schools lists – with duplicate listings removed – seven (7) individual such sites with discreet addresses and telephone numbers.
Since the 1969-1970 roster of schools, 8 schools have been constructed and 9 schools have been closed, handed-off or abandoned.
Separately, we consider the official Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) list of today’s Caddo public schools. These are the schools for which operational funding is provided through the Louisiana Minimum Foundation Program (MFP).
LDE lists 65 Caddo Parish schools as of October 1, 2014. (To see the list, Click here, then click on the very top entry in the “Enrollment Counts” list at the upper right-hand. When the document opens, scroll down to the Caddo Parish list of schools.)
An additional 6 schools, as identified in above items #4 and #5, continue to operate at full taxpayer expense in changed classifications. Once again, the LDE list includes three of the seven “alternative education” sites detailed in Item #7 above, but I ignore in this count the remaining four of those sites, as well as the two schools now leased.
In Caddo, we now have at least as many schools as forty-two years ago: 70 schools then and 71 or more now (65 + 6).
Since 1969-1970, enrollment has dropped almost exactly one-third, from 60,158* to today’s 41,146. (That count is CPSB’s, and the state’s MFP count is lower, 39,941.) Today’s enrollment counts are boosted by the inclusion of students of expanded ages, mainly 4-to-19. The 1969-1970 enrollment included students aged 5 or 6 through 18.
Regardless of any of this, the CPSB tax plan, if approved, will borrow and spend $57,120,000 for three new schools, and $50,880,000 for other brick and mortar projects.
(Elliott Stonecipher’s work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)
* This enrollment count was provided by CPSB in 1999 as my company analyzed system enrollment trends and projections. It was the combined total of students in each of Caddo’s two race-based and merged school “systems.” Enrollment then began dropping as many parents moved their children to private and parochial schools. By the 1979-1980 school year, there remained 8,918 students in Caddo Parish private schools. Now, our thirteen private schools include -53.4% fewer students: 4,146.