Trustees of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week took the first step in a process that could result in the state taking direct financial oversight of the St. Helena Parish School District.
The board voted to ask the legislative auditor, state treasurer, and attorney general whether an administrator should be appointed for the district’s finances.
The Louisiana Department of Education said it is concerned that the district does not have a viable plan to resolve the need for improved facilities and higher teacher salaries.
Taxpayers in the parish have rejected property tax increases to support bonds four times in the past three years. The current rate is the fifth-lowest in the state, the department said.
St. Helena school superintendent Daisy Slan said she would welcome assistance from the state.
The parish school board asked U.S. District Judge James Brady in April to order an increase in the tax rate without an election to support $20 million of bonds. In September, a financial consultant testified in federal court that the district could be bankrupt by 2012.
In the April filing, school officials said a court-imposed tax was necessary to provide the funds needed to pay teachers an adequate salary and replace the deteriorating facilities. The district’s three schools are at least 40 years old.
The Department of Education said the district has been one of the lowest-performing districts in Louisiana for the past five years.
“Clearly students in St. Helena are not receiving the quality education they deserve,” said Chas Roemer, the trustee who represents St. Helena Parish.
The district, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Baton Rouge, has no rated debt.