By Malcolm Butler
During Tuesday night’s Lincoln Parish School Board meeting, the 12-person board voted in favor of asking for a millage renewal for the Ruston School District No. 1 and a millage renewal and increase for the Simsboro School District 3.
These millages would fund the capital improvement plans that include expansions of Glen View Elementary School and Hillcrest Elementary School, renovations to Cypress Springs Elementary School, construction and upgrades to Ruston High School, and new construction and renovations at Simsboro High School and Elementary School.
The vote for both millages will take place in April.
According to Durrett, the current 17.75 percent millage in the Ruston School District No. 1 will expire on Dec. 31, 2024. The renewal would be for 20 years and would raise $65 million that would cover the capital development plans within the Ruston School District No. 1.
The current 5.95 percent millage in the Simsboro School District No. 3 will expire on Dec. 31, 2023. The new proposal would increase the millage to 11.5 percent over 20 years and would raise $10 million to cover the capital costs for Simsboro High School and Elementary School.
The Ruston School District No. 1 proposal passed 7-4 despite some debate among the school board representatives and some opposition from some citizens attending the LPSB meeting. Concerns centered around the plan to combine Ruston Elementary, Cypress Springs Elementary, Glen View Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary into two schools that would house pre-K through fifth grade.
If the Ruston School District No. 1 millage passes, Durrett said a tentative timetable would have construction on the first school starting in January of 2024 (and would be operational by August of 2026). Construction on the second school would start in January of 2025 (and would be operational by August of 2027), taking approximately two years to complete each of the projects. Durrett said he wasn’t sure which school would be renovated first and that time frames were fluid.
The Simsboro School District No. 3 proposal passed 9-2 without much debate.
If the Simsboro School District No. 3 millage passes, Durrett said the tentative timeline for the start of construction would be in November of this year and would take approximately 18 months to fully complete.
The plan combining Ruston elementary schools calls for Cypress Springs Elementary to move over and combine with Glen View Elementary and Ruston Elementary to move over to combine with Hillcrest Elementary. Durrett said the thought process is to decrease the number of transitions that currently take place during a Ruston school age child’s career path. Currently, Glen View and Hillcrest both house K-2 while Cypress Springs and Ruston Elementary house grades 3-5. IA Lewis is where all sixth graders in the Ruston School District attend prior to moving on to Ruston Junior High.
Durrett said he feels there are a lot of positive impacts combining of the elementary schools will have on students, parents and teachers.
“We’ve talked off and on with board members and principals around here,” said Durrett. “We’ve not gone out and had a bunch of meetings yet with (the general public). But we’ve listened to parents talk for years about the bus routes starting so early because schools start so early. This will help push school start times back some. It will also cut down on bus ride time for a lot of kids. We feel like it’s going to help with time in the morning and afternoon.“
Durrett said that over the course of the next few months, the Lincoln Parish School Board will hold public meetings at various schools to explain further details for the plan while also answering any questions that parents, teachers or the general public may have.
Durrett also stressed the direct effect it would have on the comfort ability of young students in a time where mental health issues are on the rise.
“Right now, they go to pre-K (at Lincoln Parish Early Childhood Center) and then the next year they go to Hillcrest or Glen View,” said Durrett. “So that is new to them. Then they go there for three years and then move to either Cypress Springs or Ruston Elementary for three years. That’s another new school, a new administration. They don’t really know people there. We feel like it’s a better situation if we could get them all at once on campus.
“If they go to the same school for five or six years, they get comfortable with the administration, the teachers, and the teachers get to know the kids. So there’s a lot of familiarity there. We feel that will help us make kids and parents feel more comfortable at that school.“
Some opposition also questioned relocating both schools on the south side of I-20 to schools located on the north side of I-20. However, Durrett said these decisions were based solely on fiscal responsibility in the cost of the new construction and expansion.
“The cost of renovations to Cypress Springs and Ruston Elementary is considerably higher than the cost of Hillcrest and Glen View,” said Durrett. “Bottom line is we are trying to be good stewards of tax payer dollars.”
Even if Cypress Springs and Ruston Elementary did move over to Glen View and Hillcrest, a number of Ruston District No. 1 schools would still sit in the footprint south of I-20, including Ruston High School, AE Phillips and IA Lewis; and possibly, the Lincoln Parish Early Childhood Center (LPECC) depending on whether it was relocated within the process.
Durrett did say that the current plan calls for LPECC to be incorporated into Hillcrest and Glen View. However, if sufficient funding isn’t available, it would stay at its current location. If the LPECC is moved, Durrett said discussions have taken place about using the facility as daycare for children of LPSB employees.
“We feel this would be another benefit to trying to attract teachers and administrators and school board employees to our area,” said Durrett.
The plan also calls for the Lincoln Parish School Board central office to relocate to Cypress Springs Elementary, allowing all of the LPSB administrators and entities to be housed in one facility.
Both the school district capital plans are solely dependent on their respective millages passing in April.