(This is one in a continuing series of articles concerning the Caddo Parish School Board property tax millage proposition set for a May 2, 2015 election. If approved by voters, CPSB nets another $108,000,000 for new schools and other buildings.)
by Elliott Stonecipher
Readers may be aware that the Caddo Parish School Board and staff have decided they will not answer questions from the public when they – public employees – present their tax plan in public meetings held in public buildings. If they were willing to answer questions, I would ask this one:
“The core of your tax plan is the building of a $24,500,000 school in Southeast Shreveport, regardless that no school there is needed, and that building it seriously damages University Elementary School. How do you explain this to parents and staff who support University and any other damaged schools?”
Here We Go Again
In spite of its solid educational record over decades, this is the second time University Elementary has thus been set-up for a fall by the CPSB and staff. Should voters pass this plan, the attendance zones of the two schools would directly compete, as shown and explained below*.
The raw political power behind the would-be new school guarantees University’s enrollment will be cherry-picked … gutted … for the new school, as may well prove true for one or more schools to the west of I-49.
I detailed in an earlier article (see it here) how the $24,500,000 new school is the actual driver of this CPSB tax plan. I included there a link to a related Investigative Audit conducted by state officials after voters rejected that version of the same plan by more than 14-points, in 2002. That plan would have handed the CPSB a total of $62,000,000 for building projects, compared to $108,000,000 in this one.
Now, as school board members and administrators refuse to take that “No” for an answer, they also openly refuse to fill in the very important blanks about the new school. Unanswered questions include these:
… Will the school be built on or near Southern Loop at Norris-Ferry or Wallace Lake roads? If not, where?
… Is the school an intended part of marketing existing residential developments? If so, which ones?
… Do any CPSB members have conflicts-of-interest, legal and/or ethical, in promoting this project?
… What will be the attendance zone of the new school, and is not federal court agreement required?
How University Elementary School is Targeted
Those pushing the new school must, precisely as they attempted in the 2002, convince taxpayers and voters that University Elementary is overcrowded. If they fail in that yarn-spinning, their case collapses, and the real reasons behind the new school proposal will jump out like a Halloween haint.
The CPSB tale is that University Elementary “overcrowding” is the result of recent population migration to Southeast Shreveport, as if such a shift, in and of itself, justifies a new school to the south.
In fact, general population growth – whether by migration or otherwise – is not synonymous with growth of school-aged populations. Those selling the new school do not account for (a) households with or without children, (b) empty-nesters versus couples of child-bearing age, (c) those of child-bearing age who do or do not care to have children, or (d) parents who will never enroll their children in a public school.
There is no student population along and around the Southern Loop waiting and longing for their very own new school. That school’s students must be taken from other schools, particularly University Elementary.
Additional facts are these:
(1) The Census Bureau reports that between 1990 and the most recent data of 2013, the population of school-aged children in Caddo Parish, those birth-to-19 years old, dropped -10.8%. Since 1970, CPSB enrollment has dropped one-third – 20,000 fewer students – yet we still have as many or more schools.
(2) University’s enrollment is dropping, from 988 in 2012-2013, to 941 last year, down to 926 this year.
(3) In 2001, with University enrollment at 866, taxpayers spent $2.2 million to mitigate overcrowding at University by constructing a wing of 18 new classrooms. Now, with those 18 additional classrooms, we have only 60 more children enrolled. Reductions in teacher-pupil ratios and new classes of pre-kindergarten children in no way diminish the obvious meaning of this fact. If anyone is still in doubt, note the principal’s comment, below.
(4) Public and private school enrollment totals in East / Southeast Shreveport are flat-to-negative … NOT growing:
- there are 14 fewer students than 15 years ago, in this area’s public elementary schools – A. C. Steere, Arthur Circle, Riverside and University. (Shreve Island Elementary, also in this area, accepts students from outside its attendance zone.)
- there are only 32 more students than 15 years ago in the private schools primarily serving this area – St. Joseph’s, Southfield, St. Marks, First Baptist, St. John’s, and Montessori.
(5) If University Elementary was overcrowded, which it certainly is not, the solution given all the available land at the school would be to add another wing. The cost would be $3,000,000 or less, compared to $24,500,000 for the proposed new school.
A Pertinent and Potent Message From the Arbiter
As if to provide the period at the end of any sentence about overcrowding at her school, here is what University Elementary principal Kasie Mainiero told The Times and KTBS Television in an interview as school began last fall:
“We’re not by any means overcrowded. I hear that all the time and we aren’t a small elementary school, but we are not bursting at the seams. We have room to grow and my class sizes stay small or smaller than other schools.”
University Elementary School is not overcrowded.
I applaud, and hope to help protect, the University Elementary parents, children and staff who once again face a grossly unfair and unnecessary hit to their school.
* In this map of University Elementary’s attendance zone, the school is located – starred in yellow – near the top. The supposed, but unconfirmed, location of the new school is just inside the bold boundary line nearest the top “49” interstate highway logo, and just below Overton Brooks Road. The new school, therefore, would be in the very middle of the University Elementary attendance zone. Given that the total enrollment of all East / Southeast Shreveport schools is, at best, flat over the past 15 years, the new school is completely unnecessary. The CPSB will not say what its attendance zone will be.