In The News › N.O. school building boom OK’d

Nov 13, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

N.O. school building boom OK’d

N.O. school building boom OK’d;
$2 billion blueprint wins BESE’s approval

By Sarah Carr, Staff writer

Louisiana’s board of education unanimously approved a $2 billion school facilities plan for New Orleans, paving the way for the largest school building boom in the city’s history.

This is a “proud moment for the state and a proud moment for the city,” said State Superintendent Paul Pastorek. He added that with Wednesday’s vote, “This is real. It’s ready to go. It’s boots on the ground. . . . For all the talk about recovery, this is it.”

The plan dedicates about $700 million toward the renovation and construction of about 30 campuses in the first, five-year phase. The rest of the plan will extend another decade and cost up to $1.3 billion, although officials still need to find much of the money to make it happen. They have about $700 million for the first phase in hand.

Since the Orleans Parish School Board approved the plan last Thursday, the vote from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was the final hurdle.

Both bodies, however, held off on approving the details surrounding an oversight committee for the master plan. The powerful entity will play a key role in ensuring that the millions of dollars are fairly and scrupulously spent.

Both BESE and the School Board approved the oversight committee in theory but are holding off on giving it a final nod until they see specifics.

Pastorek said he plans to have a proposed structure for the oversight committee ready early next week. The proposal will go before the School Board for approval, then BESE. He and Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas said they already are laying the groundwork for city Inspector General Robert Cerasoli’s team to play a role in monitoring.

“What some people are worrying about is who is going to be on (the committee) and who won’t be,” Pastorek said, noting that some people have expressed interest in having specific community groups represented. “We haven’t had a chance to vet it all out.”

Pastorek wants to have a renovated Craig Elementary School ready in Treme by 2009 and will put that project out to bid this month. “I don’t think resources will be committed in any substantial way before the oversight committee is in place,” he added, dismissing concerns that the work should wait until the oversight committee is formed.

The master plan spells out the fates of all school buildings in the city — whether they are currently used by the Recovery School District, the School Board or independent charter schools.

It includes the “land banking” of a few dozen buildings, meaning they could be demolished, sold or reopened as schools or for other public purposes.

After receiving public input on the plan over the course of several weeks, school officials moved additional projects into the first phase and reduced the size of elementary schools to cut costs.

The authors also decided to defer decisions on land banking a few campuses where communities strongly opposed the closings. Those schools included Green Elementary and Douglass, Cohen and Walker high schools. They also abandoned a proposal to put McMain High School on the Booker T. Washington site, dedicating money in phase one to keep the school in its current location on Claiborne Avenue.

“We’ve met with everybody we thought we could meet with to get input,” said Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Darryl Kilbert. Vallas added that he thinks the plan is “stronger” as a result of the dozens of meetings.

BESE members raised concerns about the long-term financing of the plan, echoing worries brought to the forefront by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute and the independent Bureau of Governmental Research. Those two groups argued that if financing never materializes for future phases some students will wind up in sub-par facilities, while others attend school in state-of-the-art buildings.

Pastorek noted that some buildings were already renovated post-Katrina independent of the master plan. He said that by the end of the first phase 60 percent of students should be in state-of-the-art facilities, while many others attend school in fairly good structures.

This plan might be “the best they could do with the money they had to work with,” added BESE member Louella Givens, in an interview. “We can’t afford to delay because the costs continue to rise.”

She added that part of the oversight committee’s charge will be to ensure that building costs in New Orleans “accurately reflect national standards and Southern averages.”

“Some of us feel that 60 percent is not enough,” said School Board member Lourdes Moran, who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

“With that said, I do support (the plan),” Moran added, but effective “oversight will be critical to maximize resources.”

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Sarah Carr can be reached at or 504.826.3497.

Nov 13, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

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