Issuu on Google+


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 3

St. John Parish weathers the storm BY KIMBERLY HOPSON L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – Like many areas in the Louisiana, St. John the Baptist Parish suffered greatly in the wake of Hurricane Isaac last year. Things aren’t completely back to normal in the parish, but Parish President Natalie Robottom has found a way to make it work despite the problems from the storm. “Even though half our year was consumed with Isaac, we were fortunately still able to get

St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom addresses the media during one of many press conferences held at the P.D. Hebert Building in LaPlace following Hurricane Isaac.

a lot of things accomplished. As horrible as the flooding and the

impact to the community was, out of it comes opportunities,” she

said. “Our job as leaders will be to capture those opportunities and

put them to use in a way that improves our parish for the long haul

and hopefully, makes it more resilient in the face of other disasters.” And, true to these words, Robottom said her administration has completed $25 to $30 million worth of projects across all areas in the parish so far. Robottom said much more work has been done than the public realizes. Much of the work was focused on drainage and water improvements, two areas that collected about $8 million worth of work apiece. Robottom also said the parish has an inSEE ST. JOHN, PAGE 6


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 4

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Info to know

St. John the Baptist Parish Public School System Superintendent

District 1

District 2

District 3

Kevin George

Russell Jack 985-497-8395

985-535-2969

985-536-6570

985-536-1106

rjack@stjohn.k12. la.us

aburl@stjohn.k12. la.us

gkeller@ rtconline.com

District 5

District 6

District 7

kgeorge@stjohn. k12.la.us

School Board President District 4

Patrick Sanders 985-536-4247 psanders@ stjohn.k12.la.us

District 8

Russ Wise 985-652-7211 rwise@stjohn. k12.la.us

Albert Burl III

Gerald Keller

Sherry DeFrancesch

Keith Jones

504-628-2934

kjones@stjohn. k12.la.us

985-651-4290

District 10

Rodney Nicholas

School Board Vice President District 11

504-818-8499

Clarence Triche

sdefrancesch@ stjohn.k12.la.us

District 9

Lowell Bacas 985-652-6882 lbacas@stjohn. k12.la.us

985-652-5170

rnicholas@ stjohn. k12.la.us

Phillip Johnson

pjohnson@ stjohn.k12.la.us

985-652-6193 ctriche@stjohn. k12.la.us


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Info to know

St. John the Baptist Parish Parish President

Sheriff

Natalie Robottom

985-652-9513

985-652-9569

Mike Tregre sheriff@stjohn sheriff.org

parishpres@ sjbparish.com

St. John Parish Council

Division A, At-Large Lucien Gauff

Division B, At-Large Jaclyn Hotard

District 1 Art Smith

504-222-4585

504-247-2731

985-379-6028

District 2 Ranney Wilson

District 3 Lennix Madere Jr.

District 4 Marvin Perrilloux

985-379-6285

985-379-6188

985-379-6168

District 5 Michael Wright

District 6 Larry Snyder

District 7 Cheryl Millet

504-579-4377

985-379-6061

504-296-6046

PAGE 5


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 6

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

ST. JOHN: Robottom thinks parish in good position to receive levees FROM PAGE 3

house road maintenance program, which has completed about $800,000 in road overlay projects. Robottom said the parish does assessments on potential projects and then prioritizes by need. Money is then budgeted for the repairs. The program was not implemented in the parish previously, and road work done in the past relied heavily on grants. “Over time, we’re hoping to get all of our roads up to speed. And if we continue on that maintenance plan then they’ll remain that way. But for a long time there wasn’t a whole lot of money. Whereas now, not only are we budgeting money ourselves, but we’re also applying for and receiving grants,” said Robottom. “So we’re looking to get

ourselves in a position where maintenance will be what we’re dealing with instead of letting them deteriorate to a point where we have to start from scratch.” Drinking water vulnerabilities were also exposed during Hurricane Isaac. In an effort to learn from past emergencies, the parish is currently in talks with St. Charles Parish administration for a St. Charles/St. John Interconnecting Waterline, a project that’s estimated at $74,460. The water line would allow the parish to receive 1 to 1.5 million gallons of water per day from St. Charles Parish in the event of a loss of water during emergencies.  The secondary source would be extremely beneficial as a secondary source of drinking water, since the likelihood of prob-

Many of the lawns in LaPlace north of Airline Highway were piled high with debris in the weeks and months following Hurricane Isaac.

lems with the well system in a future emergency is high. The project is expected to begin once the water level of the

LaPlace resident Carl Taylor assesses the damage at his sister’s home in the Cambridge subdivision of LaPlace. Taylor said the home took on about four feet of water.

Mississippi River is below 11 feet at the Carrolton gauge. Robottom said that although it may be hard to see while driving back and forth on the main streets of LaPlace, many residents are unfortunately still hurting from the storm. Some are still not in their homes, and two of the parish’s schools are still unusable. Robottom said she knows the area will be hit by more storms in the future but hopes that they will not be as bad as Isaac. Despite these hopes, she and her administration are trying to prepare the parish for future emergency situations. “I feel very strongly that we’re in a better position than we have ever been to receive levee protection. The dollars that were not

there previously in the budget to complete the feasibility study are there now,” she said The target date to begin the feasibility study is next year. Robottom said Col. Richard Hansen, the commander of the New Orleans District of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is supportive of the project. Although Robottom maintains a positive outlook for St. John Parish, she hopes for more participation from residents, and wants more of the community to sign up for emergency text notifications to ensure that everyone is prepared for future emergencies. “I still feel very very optimistic about the future of St. John despite the challenges. We didn’t touch on the

amount of work done by our citizens. We just have an opportunity, but what we need is a positive outlook and participation by more than just a core group of individuals. It’s our parish. There are people who will throw up their hands and give up in a heartbeat, and that’s just not my personality,” she said. “But I do know you have to work for what you want. And anything good, you have to work for. There are people who aren’t willing to put forth the effort to get the prize. I don’t have a problem with that. Just don’t interfere with those who do. If you don’t have the wherewithal to get out and do it, fine. Just sit back and let those who do move the parish forward,” said Robottom.


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 7

Storm recovery a major hurdle for St. John Schools BY KIMBERLY HOPSON L’OBSERVATEUR

RESERVE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School District has maintained an attitude of perseverance even though several years worth of hardship. Just two years ago, the district was facing major budget woes. Then last fall, just as the school year was really getting into full swing, Hurricane Isaac dealt a heavy blow. The whole of the River Parishes region was hit hard by the winds and rains of the storm, but the school system sustained massive amounts of damage with the flooding of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School and East St. John High School. “The students, staff and parents of St. John Public Schools went above and beyond under extreme circumstances during the 201213 school year. The district quickly regrouped and implemented a plan to educate those students at alternate sites,” said Interim Superintendent Herbert Smith. “The logistics of relocating students and staff, reworking schedules, finding replacements for damaged materials and reworking bus routes to get everyone where they needed to be were a tremendous challenge. Although it wasn’t always easy, everyone pitched in to make

East St. John High School is one of two schools in St. John the Baptist Parish flooded by Hurricane Isaac.

the new arrangements work and that was the district’s biggest accomplishment this year.” The district managed to put its best foot forward despite multiple roadblocks. The St. John Parish school district was able to minimize the amount of class time lost because of the damages by extending school days. Because of the extension, East St. John High School students were only a week behind other schools for graduation despite having missed 19 days of school because of the storm. Additionally, students and staff members who were affected by the storm did not compromise their commitment to the district

and found a way to make it school each day with few complaints. In the midst of dealing with Isaac’s aftermath, the school district also faced the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards and COMPASS guidelines, rigorous new testing standards implemented by the state. The district also managed to excel academically in the face of these problems. Test scores rose by a small amount. Given the situation, any improvement was viewed positively. Although district performance scores for this year have not yet been released, those scores have continued to climb, rising nearly five points in 2011-12

and increasing more than 21 percent during the past five years. The district also continued to improve its graduation rate, which rose four points. “The school district’s LEAP scores improved this year, rising by 1 percent and beating the state average of students meeting promotional standards. Endof-course test scores at East St. John High also improved this year, despite its students having their school year interrupted,” said Smith. “I am extremely proud of how our district was able to respond in the face of such adversity without compromising the quality of education we offered our students,” he continued.

Regarding hurricane rebuilding efforts, Smith said the school system faces a long road that will likely stretch beyond the 20132014 school year. Smith has confidence that the district will continue to work toward restoring normalcy. “Our priorities in that regard are to restore the damaged facilities at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and East St. John High School and to work to try to bring the Lake Pontchartrain family, which has been scattered across various campuses since Hurricane Isaac, back together again,” he said. The district is also officially under new leadership — the school board finally chose a

new superintendent at a special meeting on June 20. Kevin R. George was formerly employed with the Louisiana Department of Education as a district support deputy network leader, where he worked with school districts to implement new initiatives such as Common Core state standards and COMPASS. Smith offered his best wishes for his successor. In relinquishing his temporary title, Smith’s retained a positive outlook for the district and its staff. “I would like to take the opportunity to thank the board for allowing me the opportunity to lead this district for the 2012-2013 school year. It’s truly been a challenge, but I think this district made some strides in spite of all the adversity we endured. When I took over this position, I pledged that we would work together as a team, and I can truly tell you that I had one of the best teams that I ever had in quite some time,” he said, glowingly. “If the 2012-13 school year has taught us anything, it is what we can accomplish when we all pull together for our students. I am grateful for the efforts of our employees and parents, as well as the contributions from numerous organizations, which helped make this year a success despite all of the hurdles faced,” said Smith.


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 8

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Study aims to solve LaPlace water problems BY RYAN ARENA L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – Among the many effects that Hurricane Issac brought upon St. John the Baptist Parish was to demonstrate the vulnerability of its water system, a problem that parish leaders are committed to solving. Earlier this year, the St. John the Baptist Water Infrastructure Committee was formed to attempt to develop and cement viable short-term and longterm plans for the water system. The committee, which consisted of members of the St. John Parish Administration, Utilities Department, Parish Engineers, FEMA and Consulting Engineers, held a series of meetings in the first quarter of the year, culminating in a report put together for the

Refurbishing the parish’s water towers is one of the actions suggested by a recent study done of St. John Parish’s water supply.

Parish Council. There are three main water system facilities in the parish: one for Ruddock and LaPlace (LaPlace Water Plant), one for

Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy (Lions Water Treatment Plant), and one for Edgard (Edgard Water Treatment Plant). The report detailed

several interim actions that are planned for completion by the second quarter of 2014, including: •Installing a new pump at well number two in Ruddock and rehabilitating the existing pump, providing for a back-up pump in case the first fails. •Installing a 12-inch connection on River Road to the St. Charles Parish water system to provide an alternate water supply for the east bank of St. John should the Ruddock or Lions water sources fail. The contract for this task in the amount of $74,460 was awarded to WGS Contractors Inc. It allows the parish to receive 1 to 1.5 million gallons of water per day from St. Charles Parish in the

event of a loss of water during emergencies. •Reconnecting the Lions and LaPlace water system on River Road, providing additional water capacity. •New filters at the Lions Water Treatment Plant as well as an intake pump station upgrade. The plant now has a 250,000-gallon tank, part of more than $1 million worth of renovations. •Altitude valve replacements at four elevated storage tanks (Courthouse, Belle Terre, Walnut, Reserve). The committee also established two longterm plans, focusing on redundancy and reliability. The first is in the preliminary stages of implementation, establishing a

waterline connection between the Reserve/ Garyville/Mt. Airy and Edgard water systems, allowing water to be supplied from each side of the Mississippi River in case of failure in either system. The second is an evaluation of the LaPlace water system. Specifically, the option of using Mississippi River water as the water source for the LaPlace system versus the current well system in Ruddock will be weighed. The report notes that historically, the other two Mississippi River water supplies for St. John have remained operable during emergency situations and provided water. Options to do this include drilling another well in Ruddock; expanding the Lions Plant to supply LaPlace; or adding a new Mississippi River intake pump station. $500,000 worth of improvements to the Parish Lift Stations was funded through a 2010 bond issue. Improvements include intrusion monitoring, automatic controls, water-level indicators, alarms and shut down features to minimize overflows. A back-up generator that allows automatic start up of generators should the Edgard Water Plant lose power is also expected to be completed by September.


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

St. James Parish improves finances BY KIMBERLY HOPSON L’OBSERVATEUR

CONVENT – According to St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel, the parish has accomplished much within the last year. Among those accomplishments, the parish has saved itself much money — St. James Parish recently requested and finalized proposals for its solid waste contract, a move that saved approximately $225,000 per year, and recently signed a contract with Script Care,

an independent pharmacy benefits manager, regarding prescription drugs for youth and adult prisoners. The contract is expected to lower the parish’s medical costs by approximate $75,000 to $80,000 per year. The parish has also begun working with its workman’s compensation carrier to reduce its premium costs by $95,000. St. James Parish has also successfully addressed the issues involved with the closing of the St. James Parish Youth Center. “Department of Child and Family Service’s

new rules would have shut us down, however we worked hard to form a commission of eight parishes to keep space available. Sheriff Mike Waguespack of Assumption saw fit to start his own (youth center) and was able to do it more feasibly,” said Roussel. Toward the beginning of the year, the parish was in a pinch, as the fate of the facility teetered delicately between the commission and the offer from Waguespack. Fortunately, the paperwork went through without a hitch SEE ST. JAMES, PAGE 12

PAGE 9


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 10

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Info to know St. James Parish

Parish President

St. James Parish Council

Timmy Roussel 225-562-2260 timmy.roussel@stjamesla.com

Sheriff

Willy Martin Jr. 225-562-2377 sheriff@stjamesla.com

District 1 Alvin St. Pierre

District 2 Jason Amato

District 3 Terry McCreary

District 4 Ralph Patin

225-806-0702 alvin.stpierre@ stjamesla.com

225-268-6902 jason.amato@ stjamesla.com

225-869-3947 terry.mccreary@ stjamesla.com

225-206-1624 ralph.patin@ stjamesla.com

District 5 Charles Ketchens

District 6 Kendrick Brass

District 5 James Brazan

225-206-1625 charles.ketchens@ stjamesla.com

225-229-2492 kendrick.brass@ stjamesla.com

225-206-1627 james.brazan@ stjamesla.com


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

PAGE 11

Info to know

St. James Parish Public School System Superintendent

Alonzo Luce

District 1

Diana Cantillo

District 2

District 3

Kenneth Foret Sr.

Carol Lambert

225-258-4500 lluce@stjames. k12.la.us

225-869-7933 dcantillo@ stjames.k12.la.us

225-869-5267 kforet@stjames. k12.la.us

225-869-5134 clambert@ stjames.k12.la.us

District 4

District 5

District 6

District 7

George Nassar Jr.

Patricia Schexnayder

225-562-7528 gnassar@ stjames.k12.la.us

225-265-8357 pschexnayder@ stjames.k12.la.us

Charles Nailor Sr. 225-265-3873 cnailor@stjames. k12.la.us

Richard Reulet Jr. 225-265-2380 rreulet@stjames. k12.la.us


PAGE 12

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

ST. JAMES: Building splash park FROM PAGE 9

for the transfer of facilities. The St. James Parish Council announced at its final June meeting that the facility would be sealed and secured by the first week of July. The parish will also construct a storage building across from its Convent courthouse to store emergency response equipment and a new senior citizens center in the same area. St. James Parish has also revamped its website, a much-needed update, according to Director of Emergency Operations Eric Deroche. The new website has more efficient mobile capabilities and will automatically post updates during a disaster. “St. James Parish also started working on implementing sewage locations and

brought back the single stream recycling program. Residents and councilmen alike have been asking for years to start the recycling program back up,” he said. Like other areas in the River Parishes region, St. James suffered its fair share of damage at the hands of Hurricane Isaac in the past year. Roussel takes the flooding as a sign that the parish still has a long road ahead. “Looking back at Hurricane Isaac and having realized some of the highest levels of water backing into our communities on the east bank of the river tells us that we have a lot of work to do. We have since hired an engineering firm to do an East Bank Master Drainage Plan and are looking into various options to ward off back water,” he said. ”We are also work-

ing on a plan to have a known height for all of the slabs in those communities, a plan for sandbagging for the future, knowing in advance how many sandbags needed based on the square footage of each home. We are also formulating a master matrix for our emergency plan to alleviate any possible questions or problems prior to any event,” he continued. On a more upbeat note, St. James Parish is in the midst of building a splash and spray park in District 7 — the area known as Back Vacherie — to make the sweltering summers a little more bearable. “Other councilmen are asking if they will be the next to receive one in their district. I envision us eventually having four spray parks in the parish,” Roussel said.


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 13

St. James Schools introduce new programs BY DAVID VITRANO L’OBSERVATEUR

LUTCHER – The past school year saw many positive additions to the St. James Parish Public School System. To bring the racial makeup of student population at Gramercy Elementary School into line with the 1960s-era desegregation order, the district created the Gramercy Elementary Magnet School. The arts-intensive curriculum attracted scores of applicants, and about 180 students enrolled in the inaugural year. Each grade level had one class of magnet school students except for first grade, which started the program with two classes. Each class consisted of roughly 50 percent African-American students and 50 percent non-black students. For the 2013-14 school year, the student body of the magnet school will almost double to 320 students. Each grade level except for first grade will be adding one class. To house the new students, Superintendent Alonzo Luce said several new classrooms are being constructed at Gramercy Elementary. “We’re hoping most of it will be finished for the upcoming year,” he said. Luce said if all the classrooms are not yet complete by the start of school, he hopes to work out a deal with neighboring Sacred Heart Church to use some space there until

Each grade level except for first at the the Gramercy Elementary Magnet School will add another class for the 2013-14 school year.

all the work is done. St. James also began offering virtual classes this year. Begun in response to being stripped of some funding after some St. James Parish students chose to attend the state’s virtual academy during the 201112 school year, Luce said the online school attracted 50 to 60 students during its initial year. Additionally, many others took one or two virtual offerings. “It grew so rapidly,” said Luce. These two new offerings are part of the reason the St. James Parish school district has been designated at Course Choice district.

Under this designation, students from across the state can take advantage of any of St. James Schools’ online offerings, and students from nearby districts can even take advantage of the district’s onsite classes. According to Luce, continued legal wrangling over the constitutionality of some of the education reforms passed in the Legislature last year forced the state to provide funding for the Course Choice initiative. So unlike in the past when a district’s student chose to attend the statewide virtual academy, Luce said the state is supplying to

Course Choice district with extra funding but not penalizing the student’s home district. “It’s really a win-win situation,” said Luce. Another major change whose effect was not fully felt until the 2012-13 school year was the closure of Romeville Elementary School. According to Luce, the transition of Romeville students to Paulina Elementary has gone very well, and additional classrooms are currently being constructed to take the place of the portables that have housed some of the overflow during the 2012-13 school year. “That will be the final

merging of Romeville Elementary into Paulina,” said Luce. Some more major changes were in the works for the school system until community involvement put the brakes on planned closures of Fifth Ward and Lutcher elementary schools. At its retreat, the School Board members present voted to begin the process of closing the two schools, which have each seen a steady decline in student population in recent years, but after a series of community meetings held at the two schools, the plan was put on hold for now. Luce said the School Board will continue to monitor the situation. A final change to the image if not the substance of the school district came with the redesign of its logo to better reflect the focus of the district and convey its mission. On the academic front, the school district continued its steady climb, posting about a 6 percent growth in standardized test scores compared to the state’s average of 5 percent. “That was positive,” said Luce. “However, we do have some challenges we are working through.” Among those challenges is the implementation of Common Core Standards, which raises the bar for both students and teachers across the state. For instance, districts will now only be credited for students who score

at the “proficient” level or above. “It really is a big issue for us,” said Luce. The district also is in the process of updating its computer equipment while continuing the expansion of the 1-to-1 laptop program. All students in seventh through 12th grades are issued a laptop that is theirs to keep for the duration of the school year. Students from third through sixth grades also have laptops, but theirs must stay at school. Even students younger than third grade will benefit from readily available portable computing devices. The district’s dual enrollment program has been expanding by leaps and bounds in recent years, and thanks to SACS accreditation, starting next year students will be able to earn a complete two-year degree by the time they finish high school. St. James Public Schools has agreements with Nicholls State, South Central Louisiana Technical College and River Parishes Community College. Lastly, after two winless years for the football team at St. James High, the School Board tapped Dwain Jenkins to coach the school’s football team and provide leadership for its other athletic programs in the capacity of athletic director. Said Luce, “We’re really looking forward to the new energy at St. James High School.”


PAGE 14

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

New west bank stadium among school projects BY RYAN ARENA L’OBSERVATEUR

St. James High School prepares for the building of its new football stadium, which is expected to be completed within the next two years. Lutcher began play in its new stadium before last season (pictured). The St. James field will have the same New Revolution Field Turf as installed at the Lutcher field, as the parish purchased the turf for both fields at the same time (Photo by Chris Cox).

ST. JAMES – St. James High School’s current football stadium was built in 1949. But if everything goes as planned, this upcoming season and the next will be its swan song. A new stadium is scheduled to begin construction later this year and should be ready for action within 18 months, said St. James Parish Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Alonzo Luce. The stadium, which will be built in Vacherie, is to be one of a number of upgrades and additions that will begin coming to fruition in the coming months for the St. James Parish school district. Construction has started on the roads that will lead to the stadium, which will lead to the building site from Louisiana Highways 3127 and 20. Luce said the School Board is in the process of evaluating bids for the construction of the actual stadium. He believes that will be settled within 90 days. Plans originally called for the stadium to be built on the St. James High School campus, but it will now be built at the Vacherie site, coinciding with the purchase of land for a potential new high

school in Vacherie. “We wanted to put it where the population is,” said Luce. The catalyst for the new stadium came after fire damaged Lutcher High School’s football stadium in 2010. “We had both stadiums evaluated and looked at, and it was determined that both were at the end of their useful lives,” said Luce. The stadium will have artificial turf installed, the same as the turf in Lutcher’s new stadium, which opened last year. “To save on the costs, we bought the turf for both stadiums at the same time,” said Luce. The new stadium is expected to have a seating capacity of approximately 3,000. “I think it’ll make a big statement,” said Luce. “When you drive down that road, you’re going to see a really nice stadium.” The stadium, however, is not the only construction activity going on in the district. Luce said he and the board are excited about the growth of the performing arts magnet program at Gramercy Elementary School. New classrooms are being built at the school to accommodate the added students. The performing arts program currently boasts 160 students.

“Because we’re pulling students from across the parish, we’ve seen the number of students increase tremendously. The new classrooms should be a tremendous help,” said Luce. Meanwhile, at Paulina Elementary, eight portable classrooms were relied upon this past school year. There, too, will be new classrooms built. Luce said that once those classrooms are built, there will be no need for the portables. “By next year, we should have none of them,” he said. “To take students out of these portables and into the main school building is something that will change the culture in a positive way.” Finally, Luce said that the school district will be making a leap in terms of how it embraces technology. Every student from the third grade up will have a Macbook Air laptop to use, with students from seventh grade and up being permitted to take theirs home. “We’re really excited about the prospect of every student being able to work with one,” said Luce. “They’ll be able to do away with bulky textbooks and be able to do a lot of their work and reading through the laptops.”


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 15

Flood maps, protection among chief concerns in St. Charles BY RICHARD MEEK CONTRIBUTING WRITER

HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. is cautiously optimistic about the next 12 months, even as he casts a wary eye toward the nation’s capital. St. Pierre understands the parish’s future could hinge on what Congress ultimately decides regarding the new and controversial flood maps as well as the BiggertWaters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. If enacted as proposed, flood insurance rates could jump into the thousands of dollars annually, potentially threatening to turn thriving communities into ghost towns. “To put it bluntly we are fighting for our parish’s existence and the right for residents to not be priced out of their homes by flood insurance premiums,” St. Pierre said. St Pierre said he plans to appeal the flood maps and push for congressional action to re-enact grandfathering for existing properties. He said he is in constant communication with elected officials as well as regional business and industry groups. Additionally, the parish is undertaking a formal appeal of the maps with the assistance of geomorphologist Dr. Joseph Suhayda. “These changes have the potential to devastate our local economy,

St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. (center) discusses the hurricane preparedness drills with Col. Ed Fleming, commander New Orleans District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (left), and Steve Wilson, board president of the Pontchartrain Levee District.

so we are getting as many folks on board as possible to help push for change based on the effects to their particular constituency group,” St. Pierre said “We will not be satisfied with the outcome until grandfathering is reinstated for properties and affordability controls are put in place with regard to flood insurance premiums.” “We are lucky to have residents who are willing to fight with us, and I give them immense credit for the victories won so far,” he added. “We need to keep up the momentum as more folks around the country learn about the devastating effects of Biggert-Waters to affect a long-term solution.” He said the threat of dramatically increased flood premiums has already reduced property values in some areas, and as a result the parish is expected

to endure a reduction in property tax revenue. St. Pierre said levee protection also continues to be a concern, especially in the wake of flooding threats posed by Hurricane Isaac this past August, especially in Montz and on the west bank. Although the parish did not suffer any severe damage, the storm did expose some vulnerabilities. But there is much good news to report on that front, the president said. The parish has received a construction permit for the Ellington Phase of the West Bank Hurricane Projection Levee, with bids expected to go out later this year. A five-year timetable has been established for the completion of the entire Willowridge section, including a pump station. The parish is also working on two other sections, includ-

ing partially completed Magnolia Ridge, but funding uncertainty prohibits officials from providing a timetable, St. Pierre said. Additionally, the parish is working with the Lafourche Basin Levee District on surveying and testing the Sunset Drainage District levee in western St. Charles so it can be incorporated in the overall protection plan for the west bank. In addition St. Pierre said the council and administration will continue to add available monies to the parish budget in the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee fund. “My major goal is to continue to improve drainage and hurricane/flood protection for the parish, as it has been since I’ve been in office,” he said. St Pierre listed among some major accomplishments this

past year as the receipt of the Ellington permit, receiving $13.9 million in grant funding in 2012, including water and sewer improvements in Luling, Boutte and Hahnville, adoption of a Recreation Master Plan and construction of the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center, a new parish emergency operations center and the west bank Public Works Yard, providing safer and more efficient spaces for parish employees and the public. St. Pierre admitted, however, to continued frustration with providing better recreational access to waterways on the west bank. He said the parish applied for grant funding with the state to begin building a new boat launch at Bayou Des Allemands, but the grant was not approved, thus tabling the project for the time being. Overall, St. Pierre

is eagerly embracing the challenges during the next 12 months, a time in which he hopes some of his unfulfilled goals can be met. His first priority, however, remains making inroads in Congress. “I really believe we will make positive strides in repealing the negative aspects of Biggert-Waters, “ he said. “More and more members of Congress are realizing they made a mistake in passing the legislation, that changes must be made.” Also on the agenda is construction starting on the Willowridge Phase of the protection levee, major renovations to the Sunset drainage pump, formulation of a plan to revitalize the Paul Maillard Road Corridor and the addition of a masterplanned new community park in Luling, including a splash park. The parish should also benefit financially from several plants along the Mississippi River planning expansions and others coming online. “Overall I would say that St. Charles Parish is in good health and strong,” St. Pierre said. “That being said, the future health of the parish is closely related to Congress fixing Biggert-Waters and our continued efforts to construct and maintain comprehensive hurricane protection for all residents, both on the east and west bank.”


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 16

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

St. Charles Schools moving forward despite leadership change BY KIMBERLY HOPSON L’OBSERVATEUR

LULING – The future is looking bright if a little uncertain for St. Charles Parish Public School District. Superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public School District Dr. Rodney Lafon said that test results this year were “out of the ballpark.” The school district saw a 3 percent increase in scoring on LEAP/iLEAP testing, jumping from 79 to 82 percent. The change from last year to the current year is the school district’s biggest jump in scoring since 2009. “If you look at a couple of those districts in Baton Rouge, those little bitty districts? That shouldn’t be in the same boat as us. We’re 10,000 children. As large as we are, we’re number five in the state. Sometimes you just have to say the kids and the teachers rocked,” said Lafon. The district’s new salary schedule goes into effect this coming school year. The salary schedule will give teachers an opportunity to qualify for stipends based on their annual performance evaluations, raising salaries for those who meet state-instituted teaching standards. A set of regulations under Act 1 of last year’s state Legislature called for parishes to devise a new pay scale for teachers based on experience, demand and/or

RODNEY LAFON

degrees and effectiveness ratings. Lafon said that increase will be about $700 for those who qualify. “The board was so supportive of that,” said Lafon. “The teachers really felt like St. Charles Parish School Board went the extra mile. There are school systems out there that plugged the salary schedule in and didn’t give their people anything. We didn’t do that.” The school system also has several building projects in the works from the April 21 bond issue. After receiving voters’ permission to borrow $45 million, new wings will be going up at Destrehan High School, Hahnville High School and Mimosa Park

Elementary. Hahnville High’s new wing will add 20 classrooms and a life skills suite for special education classes, complete with a kitchen and laundry area. Destrehan High will get a new arts wing to house its band, choir, arts and drama classes. Mimosa Park will receive a new wing to house the newly combined kindergarten classes from A.A. Songy Kindergarten Center. The wing will feature a resource center, a satellite cafeteria and a separate eating area. The estimated completion date is late spring 2014. This is one three phases of the bond issue projects. For Phase II of the project, Norco Elementary K-3 School

will get a new wing with 13 classrooms and a modernized library to share with Norco Elementary, eliminating 10 portables on the campus. This project is scheduled to be completed as soon as August of this year. “It’s going to be phenomenal. What we promise to people, what we always have done, there’s never been a time when we said we were going to do something and we didn’t do it. We did them all. That’s what we’re doing now. These (projects) are the ones we promised the public, and they’re going down,” said Lafon. The superintendent said most of this year’s challenges were because of the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards and COMPASS guidelines, Lafon said the standards are controversial since the children will be assessed with technology. Lafon himself wonders how fast the participating school districts will be able to get everyone up to speed because of this. “This school system embraces those Common Core state Standards. In my opinion, the challenge down the road is how do you assess them. That’s been a struggle in some states already,” he said. “The Common Core is going to make things more rigorous for children, and that’s OK. It’s how you assess it that seems to be what people

are getting upset about. It’s a lot when you’re talking about testing within a certain time frame,” he said. In the future, Lafon said the school district will invest more into its data reviews, a system that is unique to St. Charles Parish Public Schools. Data reviews entail quarterly meetings with school administrators and a detailed collection of information about each child’s performance, which is then mapped or graphed. The school district began using the reviews in 2011 but utilized them more heavily this year. According to Lafon, so far it’s been very successful. “We used to meet with the principal, and we’d say, ‘How do you think your children are going to do?’, and they really couldn’t answer the question. You take the data and break it down, child by child, grade by grade, class by class,” said Lafon. “Now they can talk about the children that are doing fine, the ones that are doing really good and the ones that are struggling. That’s why I think our test scores went up so much.“ Stevie Crovetto, the director of public information, said the school district will also focus more on marketing within the coming year. The St. Charles Public School District recently debuted a public education video called “Faces of St. Charles Public Schools.” The video is available on the district

website. Lafon said the marketing is for recruitment purposes as well. “We are at a point right now to where we feel we need to market our school district. At the beginning of next school year, we’ll be doing different billboards. You’ll be seeing possible commercial ads, expanding channel 8 programming and also putting more information on our website,” said Crovetto. “The community really is the people who are the faces of the school system. We’ll be rolling that out, and you’ll see some more faces, and we’ll be introducing kind of a whole new component to the marketing aspect of the school district,” she continued. Perhaps the biggest change going on in the school system right now is that Lafon, who has led St. Charles Parish Public Schools for 18 years, is retiring June 30. Lafon said his post-retirement plans consist of traveling and playing more music. The superintendent is an avid trumpet player and was an established musician before he became involved in the education field. Currently, he plays with three groups: Luther Kent and Trick Bag, the Wise Guys and the Jerry Leonard Society Orchestra. He also participated in Jazz Fest this year. The School Board is in the process of trying to find Lafon’s replacement.


WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 17

St. Charles’ newest councilman gets his feet wet BY RYAN ARENA L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – As a heavy equipment operator for 25 years for the St. Charles Parish government, Billy Woodruff knows a little bit about building levees. It’s one reason that Woodruff, a native and lifelong resident of Luling, decided to run for a seat on the St. Charles Parish Council, one that he earned officially when he was elected May 4. He now sits as council representative of District II. The west bank of St. Charles Parish is currently unprotected from storm surges associated with both hurricanes and high tide conditions. Levee phases are currently in the works at Ellington, Magnolia Ridge and Willowridge.

“Getting those levees done, it’s the most important thing,” said Woodroof. “We’re waiting on some studies right now. We need to have as much information as possible so we can make the best decision before we really finalize everything.” He said his experience as a parish worker made him quite familiar with the levee process. “I thought I could do some good,” he said. “I know what has to go on to even get started on (building levees). I know the trouble spots. So, as a potential councilman, I saw a chance to help get this thing fixed.” In all, the Hahnville High School alumni worked more than 27 years with the St. Charles Parish Government. In 2012, he was named the parish’s

outstanding employee. He is a member of the parish’s Operations, Maintenance and C o n s t r u c t i o n M a n a g e m e n t C o m m i t t e e , Legislative Committee, Contract/Finance and Administrative Committee, Special Projects/Public Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, Hurricane Protection Projects Committee, Louisiana Police Jury Association and the National Association of County Officials. He said, among his other goals, he’d like to get the ball rolling on constructing a new public boat launch on the west bank. “We’re trying to get the state to match funds,” he said. “It’s possible in 2014. We’ve got our fingers crossed for that.”

SUBSCRIBE TODAY! CALL 985-652-9545

After a few weeks on the job, Woodruff said that he’s found it to be a challenge, but one made easier by a tremendous support staff around him. “I have to admit, it requires a lot more time than I anticipated originally,” said Woodruff. “I thought maybe I’d be looking at five or six hours a day, but then I look at the clock when I finish, and it’s been 10 hours. The people who balance this with a day job, I imagine they get very little sleep. “I’ve had a lot of help from the staff, from our council members, and everyone’s been bringing me up to speed. It’s made everything a lot easier for me.”

BILLY WOODRUFF


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

PAGE 18

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Info to know St. Charles Parish

Parish President

V.J. St. Pierre Jr.

St. Charles Parish Council

985-783-5000 vj@stcharlesgov.net

Sheriff

Greg Champagne 985-783-6237 gchamp@stcharlessheriff.org

Division A, At-Large Carolyn Schexnayder

Division B, At-Large Clayton Faucheux

District 1 Terrell Wilson

District 2 Billy Woodruff

504-915-4133 cschexnayder@ stcharlesgov.net

504-701-2829 cmfaucheux@ stcharlesgov.net

504-415-4789 twilson@ stcharlesgov.net

504-442-1121 bwoodruff@ stcharlesgov.net

District 3 Wendy Benedetto

District 4 Paul Hogan

504-415-4972 wbenedetto@ stcharlesgov.net

504-615-4862 phogan@ stcharlesgov.net

District 5 Larry Cochran

District 6 Traci Fletcher

504-415-3630 lcochran@ stcharlesgov.net

985-307-0120 tfletcher@ stcharlesgov.net

District 7 Julia Fisher-Perrier

504-376-3641 jperrier@ stcharlesgov.net


| INSIDE THE RIVER PARISHES |

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26, 2013

Info to know

St. Charles Parish Public School System

Superintendent

District 1

District 2

Rodney Lafon

Ellis Alexander

Melinda Bernard

985-785-6289 rlafon@stcharles. k12.la.us

985-783-2641 ealexander@stcharles.k12. la.us

985-785-7668 mbernard@stcharles.k12. la.us

District 3

District 4

District 5

Dennis Naquin

Clarence Savoie

John Smith

985-764-0946 dnaquin@stcharles.k12. la.us

985-758-2494 csavoie@stcharles.k12.la.us

504-469-0167 jsmith@ stcharles.k12.la.us

District 6

District 7

District 8

John Robichaux

Arthur Aucoin

Alex Suffrin

504-416-1571 jrobichaux@ stcharles.k12. la.us

985-785-9866 aaucoin@stcharles.k12. la.us

985-764-4288 asuffrin@stcharles. k12. la.us

PAGE 19



Inside the river parishes 6 13