Hearing set on Patterson school tax

This facility is not good enough for our students.
Election on Oct. 19
A second try to pass a tax to replace Patterson Junior High School’s facility that the school superintendent said has “exhausted its life expectancy” is under way.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the first attempt nearly a decade ago failed at the polls. At that time, engineering firm Bellard & Associates concluded the then 51-year-old building had reached its service life.
The 2004 report stated “due to existing building parameters, remodeling of the facility to any great extent will not bring the building up to the state of the art required in today’s educational facilities. In my opinion, the building should be demolished and re-built with new construction prior to investing large sums of money in a remodel process.”
The St. Mary Parish School Board has called an Oct. 19 election asking residents from the Calumet Cut to Southwest Boulevard in Bayou Vista to approve a 15-mill property tax to replace Patterson Junior High School.
Included in the plans is construction of a new multi-purpose building at Hattie Watts Elementary.
Absentee balloting is ongoing through Saturday for the school and four other propositions.
The junior high is plagued with interior walls separating from exterior walls, cracks in interior and exterior walls, moisture problems and inadequate flooring. Exterior brick cracking results in water hazards, flooding and insect infestations as well as expensive loss of heating and cooling.
“This facility is not good enough for our students,” school board member Marilyn LaSalle said.
In addition, student population growth has surged in the Patterson community, leaving schools without additional classroom space to access in the event of future expansion.
While Morgan City High School is technically the largest school in the parish as of the official Oct. 1 counts, Hattie Watts Elementary often becomes the largest when seniors graduate at mid-term, principals of both schools said. As of Oct. 1, Morgan City High School had 710 students with 10 anticipated mid-term graduates. Hattie Watts had 691 on the same date, while Patterson Junior High had 517 students at that time.
Patterson Junior High Principal Suzanne Bergeron said, “It’s not fiscally responsible to dump any more money into this building. We’ve made do and have piecemealed it as best we can.”
The millage, if passed, is expected to support $21 million in bonds to be paid over 20 years through a property tax of 15 mills. 
A taxpayer with property valued at $100,000 will incur an additional $37.50 in property taxes annually under the plan. Homes under $75,000 are exempt.
The new junior high would be located on the existing property but will face Catherine Street. Current plans call for a swap with the City of Patterson of the current school’s gym and cafeteria for a street that runs through the school property. The school system also plans to purchase a nearby store on First Street, according to LaSalle.
Meanwhile, the multi-purpose building at the elementary school would free two classrooms currently used for physical education, while adding two additional classrooms for a net of four, Principal Niki Fryou said.
Also, the school will be able to cut costs on bringing in activities and performers as well as holding open houses all at once. The school has to have the performances repeated several times and hold parent nights multiple times because all of the students cannot fit into one room of the school, Fryou said.
School board member Ginger Griffin noted that the Patterson schools are in dire need.
LaSalle, who also sits on Patterson’s economic development committee, added that when a business or employee is looking to locate locally, one of the first things it looks at is the schools its employees will send their children to.
“We want them to come here,” she said, adding that the deterioration and crowding at the schools is a deterrent despite both schools’ high school performance scores with the state. In 2012, Hattie Watts scored 105 points, while the junior high scored 92.4 points.
Aguillard said the two schools’ plight “really is the greatest need of District 2. Berwick schools are in better shape than the Patterson schools.”
A public hearing on the matter will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Patterson Junior High School gym.
Early voting for the Oct. 19 election began Saturday but has been slow to date.
Registrar of Voters Joleen Holcomb said Saturday there were two votes in Franklin and seven in Morgan City, combined with 39 mail ballots for a total of 48.
The Patterson schools proposition will be voted on by those living between Southwest Boulevard in Bayou Vista and Calumet, including a portion of Victoria Riverside Road near Patterson. There are 5,945 registered voters in this area, according to Holcomb.

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