The Lafayette Parish School System is scurrying to accommodate the exploding population of students in Youngsville. By Heather Miller
A new elementary school for an ever-growing and overcrowded population of students in Youngsville could be in the works as early as the start of next school year, pending board approval of Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper’s fix for a problem that at its height left south Lafayette Parish’s two most affluent communities publicly discussing a possible break from the school system.
Youngsville has for more than a decade claimed the title of fastest-growing town in the state, but it’s a feat that hasn’t come without the tough growing pains associated with such a rapid rise in population. As the flourishing south Lafayette Parish community continues to prep itself for even more growth — several new residential developments are under way — its schools have already surpassed maximum capacity by more than 1,000 students.
The overcrowding in Youngsville schools and the abundance of Butler buildings that have been used to give temporary relief have prompted some serious discussions of late between Cooper, school board members and Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator, who recently threatened to propose a break-away school district for Youngsville if the overcrowding and facility issues aren’t addressed in the very near future. Side note: If Youngsville were to move forward with plans to break away from LPSS, it would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature next year and voter approval of a Constitutional Amendment.
That same ultimatum sparked unexpected input from Youngsville’s bustling neighbor, which quickly chimed in that the town of Broussard would be interested in joining the break-away school district if Broussard’s own overcrowding problems can’t be solved.
Cooper, working closely with Viator, School Board President Shelton Cobb and Youngsville’s board rep. Rae Trahan, has proposed a solution for south Lafayette’s exploding population that includes “quickly and completely” renovating G.T. Lindon, adding more classrooms and bathrooms that will address the immediate overcrowding and leave a little room for future student increases. That same plan, which will be presented to the board at its June 20 meeting, will also add a new K-5 elementary school to the list of schools in Youngsville. Both projects would be breaking ground by the beginning of next school year if the board approves Cooper’s plan.
Viator says the meetings have been “productive,” and he remains optimistic about the school system’s plan for patching up the overcrowding problems. He did ask, however, that all questions regarding the plan for Youngsville school facilities be directed to Cooper and Cobb.
“We’re in complete agreement on what we’re going to try to bring to the board,” Cooper says about his meetings with Viator and other officials.
Since voters last October firmly rejected a property tax to pay for the construction of new schools and facelifts for older schools (it’s worth noting that 74 percent of Youngsville voters rejected the tax proposal, 5 percent more than the parishwide average of 69 percent), funding for the Youngsville projects would come from bond sales that should bring in approximately $33 million.
Cooper estimates that $16 to $18 million of that money would be spent on the Youngsville fix, leaving substantially less money for a project that was initially slated to receive the entire $33 million and more: the district’s new David Thibodaux Career and Technical High School.
The board’s original plans for Thibodaux Tech call for an additional $47 million to go toward the finishing touches of the school, which is already open and serving students. But the new superintendent has since recommended a shift in the mission of LPSS’s new career-focused high school to a more rigorous STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum and a magnet school status. He says the district can accommodate Thibodaux Tech for about $8 million.
“We don’t have $47 million, and we can’t afford to spend it in a way that isn’t going to be productive. We think we can bring Thibodaux Tech into the facility we need it to be for far less money,” Cooper says. “It’ll be more in tune to the future but still have some basic career-to-work options; we’re not doing away with what they have now. We need to spend this money on more urgent matters, like Youngsville — and healthy bathrooms for our other 40-something schools.”
Board President Cobb agrees, noting that it may be time to take a second look at the plans for Thibodaux Tech.
“There’s a difference between what the new board wants for Thibodaux Tech and what the old board wanted,” Cobb says. “The design of the school hasn’t changed, but the objectives for instructional programs have changed, and most of the board members don’t feel we need an athletic complex at a STEM academy.”