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Obama’s plan would direct millions to Caddo schools

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Written by
Mary Nash-Wood 

From: Shreveport Times.com

 

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Caddo Parish Public Schools could get a much-needed $40.1 million in federal funds to repair and rejuvenate its aging school buildings as part of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act.

The $447 billion plan, which awaits a congressional decision, sets aside about $25 billion in federal funds for a range of emergency repairs and renovation projects at elementary and secondary schools with an additional $5 million allotted to repair buildings at community colleges.

Roughly 40 percent of that $25 billion would be directed to the nation’s 100 largest high-need school districts, including Caddo Parish schools. The rest would be funneled to states to distribute at their choosing.

For Louisiana, the projected allocation is $516.8 million with an additional $40.7 million for community colleges.

If passed by Congress, districts would be required to spend funding by the end of September 2012.

Superintendent Gerald Dawkins said the plan coincides perfectly with the district’s master plan, better known as Vision 2020.

Passed by the Caddo Parish School Board in March, Vision 2020 lays a framework for tackling the district’s

renovation and construction needs in a three-phase approach. The anticipated cost of Vision 2020 is $600 million.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is a flawless fit into our Vision 2020 plan. I’m cautiously optimistic that Congress will provide us this opportunity to work on our facilities.”

Dawkins said the facilities study, which crafted Vision 2020, allows the district to be proactive in its approach, an advantage many districts won’t have if and when funds are dispersed.

“We are poised with the information gathered from a study of our facilities, which looked at a variety of needs, including security, efficiency and functional adequacy, to move quickly in using these funds to address some of our biggest needs affecting our district right now.”

Addressing needs

Because of the short time frame, Dawkins suggested Vision 2020 could be tweaked to meet the federal guidelines.

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“We would welcome the opportunity to redo the order in which we have planned Vision 2020. Obviously, there are restrictions with this funding, such as requiring us to work on existing facilities as opposed to building new, but Vision 2020 gave us a priority list in which to move in renovating our facilities.”

Tommy Smith, Caddo’s director of maintenance and school plant, said the district may use the resources to make facilities comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

“Right now, we have a plan that allows for one elevator a year at our schools,” he said. “This may allow us to speed up the process and get our schools the things they need under ADA guidelines.”

Given the district’s financial situation, Dawkins said it would take a program like this to make some of Vision 2020 happen.

“We are all well aware of the budget challenges facing our district and others around the state and country, and it would take some type of special funding either through means like this or a possible bond election to address the needs of our district.”

At this time, the average age of a Caddo school building is 60 years old. In Louisiana, that figure drops to 50 years old. Don Whittinghill, Louisiana School Board Association’s editorial and research consultant, said districts across the state have been crying out for years for a way to address their facility needs.

“For the past three years, we’ve been holding facilities workshops with our member school boards, and overwhelmingly, districts are trying to find any relief to fix their schools as they age,” he said.

LSBA interim executive director Lloyd Dressell said the organization has been working with legislators in recent years to find a funding source for districts but have hit political roadblocks along the way.

Another key point of the bill would allow for $35 billion to prevent layoffs of up to 280,000 teachers nationwide. Louisiana’s share is estimated to be $434.4 million to support 6,300 teachers and first responder jobs.

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Caddo Schools and the LSBA are optimistic about the money but caution that it is one-time funding.

“Funding like this is best used for experimenting with new programs and enhancing the ones we have because we have to realize that you can’t make a permanent position out of one-time dollars,” said James Woolfolk, chief operations officer for Caddo Schools.

Dressell said LSBA is continuing to review the American Jobs Act, but he said there will be conversations with lawmakers before Congress votes.

Awaiting action

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she is happy to see Obama’s plan addressing the needs of aging school facilities across the nation and in particular Caddo Parish.

“I am pleased that the president’s jobs plan invests in school modernization. Too many of our schools are stretched thin and face a backlog of projects that often result in crowded classrooms and inadequate infrastructure for technology.”

Landrieu added she feels the modernization efforts will better arm schools to teach students the skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow.

“Not only will these modernization efforts help ensure Louisiana students are learning in schools that are fully equipped to teach 21st century skills, they also will put hardworking Louisianians back to work. Rebuilding, repairing and constructing new schools ensures that future generations inherit solid and strong infrastructure that serves as the backbone in our communities.

After reading the bill, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said he thinks it does not truly create jobs as the president contends.

“This ‘jobs’ bill does nothing about creating jobs,” he said. “It is just another stimulus bill under the veil of a ‘jobs’ bill plagued with more tax increases. We need serious solutions to job creation that will not bankrupt future generations.

“As of Sept. 22, it’s been two weeks, and President Obama still can’t find one Democrat to introduce his bill in the House. Maybe even Democrats realize this bill does nothing to create jobs. House Republicans have passed numerous bills that would create jobs and lower energy prices, but the Democrat-controlled Senate has failed to act on these.”

Landrieu said she agrees with the president that economic development is essential, but the cost is a concern.

“I commend the president for refocusing Congress on our nation’s No. 1 priority: jobs and economic growth, and I support the vast majority of his proposals. Where we differ is in how he plans to pay for them. I don’t believe singling out one industry — which employs 300,000 Louisianians and contributes billions to our economy each year — is the right thing to do and unless it is part of a broader effort to simplify the tax code for all industries, I won’t support it.”

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

 
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Written by demon53

September 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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