Donaldsonville Council votes to support Ascension Public Schools construction bond

Donaldsonville School Board Bond

Ascension Parish Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Westbrook presented details and answered questions about the April 9 school construction bond election during Tuesday's Donaldsonville City Council meeting. 

Ascension Parish Public Schools representatives presented information and answered questions about the April 9 parishwide construction bond election during Tuesday's regular meeting of the Donaldsonville City Council.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Westbrook led the presentation of the School Board's request to voters to extend an existing 15.08 mills to fund projects across the district.

Ultimately, City Council members voted unanimously, 5-0, on a resolution in support of the bond.

Prior to the vote, the members and the city attorney voiced questions and concerns to the representatives.

Westbrook began by touting the advancements of all of the district's schools, noting that none of the schools have an F grade.

He cited several benchmarks that place Ascension public schools among the best in Louisiana, including standardized test scores and graduation rates.

Westbrook also emphasized that the success of the schools are "not just about a letter grade, but opening a world of opportunity for students."

This includes progressing to four-year universities, two-year colleges, and career and technical educational opportunities, he said.

Westbrook pointed to "promises made and promises kept" from 2009 when the millage came up for vote.

According to information provided by the district, a total investment of $120 million will go toward school improvements across the parish.

Top priorities include more than $15 million each for four new schools on the east side of Ascension: Primary schools at Bullion Crossing, Hwy. 73, and Germany Road, and a middle school on Bluff Road.

Another $12.9 million will go toward the completion of freshman academies at Dutchtown, East Ascension, and St. Amant high schools.

All campuses will continue to implement security plans, at a cost of $3 million.

Every primary school in the parish will have exterior covers for play areas.

Specifially for the westbank, Donaldsonville High School's commons area will be renovated, and the auxillary gym will be expanded. The old DHS library will be converted to classroom and office space, at a cost of $500,000.

Lowery Middle School will have a new exterior look ($3.9 million), and Donaldsonville Primary School will have the addition of a safe room.

Additions and renovations to the Donaldsonville Head Start program building will come at a cost of $3 million.

According to information provided by the district, Donaldsonville High has an enrollment of 450 students, while Lowery Middle has more than 350, Lowery Elementary tallies over 400, and Donaldsonville Primary counts 500-plus.

Several eastbank schools, meanwhile, are challenged with overcrowding issues due to a growing overall population.

The district projects enrollment to grow by 33 percent (more than 5,478 additional students) over the next decade.

City Attorney Chuck Long asked Westbrook about projections of when parishwide population levels may level off.

Westbrook noted the current possibility of a moratorium on new subdivisions in Ascension.

The School Board has a formula to project, based on an area, the number of incoming primary, middle, and high school students new properties could bring.

Westbrook said the School Board continuously searches for land for potential school campus sites.

Long questioned the use of temporary buildings, commonly referred to as T-buildings, at westbank schools.

Long reasoned that an area with a mostly static population should not have to resort to using such buildings.

Westbrook said Donaldsonville Primary expanded its pre-K program, causing the student population to increase.

Long continued, stating the district has been "blessed" with a tax base "flush with money," but some of the westbank schools still turn in D grades.

The attorney expressed concerns over the "pride and joy" schools on the eastbank taking the limelight, while the west side schools suffer poor showings.

Due to Donaldsonville schools generating F grades for a period of time, the perception among the public has not been as high as on the eastbank.

"That's just the reality of it," Long said. "Perception is what's killing us."

He was quick to add that the westbank schools have good students and have successes, but sometimes "perception becomes reality."

Ascension Parish's Director of Secondary Education Lisa Bacala agreed that there are positives coming out of westbank schools, and the district has been working to publicize it.

"It's small doses," Bacala said. "A lot of good is not being seen."

Westbrook added: "We're continuing to work day and night to give young people a world-class education."

Councilman Lauthaught Delaney Sr. pointed out an upcoming career fair where Donaldsonville graduates will come back to show current students the possibilities in front of them.

"We have to stop stigmatizing these kids," Delaney said. "That will definitely stifle their growth."

Westbrook added that letter grades do not take into account growth in schools.

He said the system could take into account cases where schools exceed expectations.

Councilman Charles Brown Sr. said many former Donaldsonville residents now have children enrolled in eastbank schools due to the perception of poorly performing westbank schools.

Brown pointed out his daughter as a successful product of Donaldsonville, as she is now a university student.

Delaney made the motion to pass a resolution in support of the bond issue. Councilman Reginald Francis seconded.

Council members voted 5-0 in favor of the resolution.

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