In a rare gathering, the committee tasked with overseeing the $2 billion master plan for rebuilding and renovating Orleans Parish schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina met Tuesday night to discuss construction progress.
The conversation, which largely covered status updates and funding sources, is one that’s been had before, albeit in different settings. The Orleans Parish School Board and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which hears matters concerning the state-run Recovery School District, discuss master-plan projects regularly during monthly meetings.
Still, the meeting brought together the three entities for an opportunity to speak frankly about funding and schools’ misconceptions about building space.
Much of the funding for the second phase of the plan, which includes rebuilding Paul Dunbar Elementary in Hollygrove, and three new Algiers buildings, relies on tax credits that the School Board and the Recovery School District haven’t netted yet. Both entities are hopeful about a recent application for a new-market tax credit that could give them up to $30 million, and they hope to gain historic-tax credits for many of the city’s Uptown schools, bringing in at least $15 million.
But landing a new-market tax credit is a tough feat because the selection process is extremely competitive, said RSD’s director of strategic finance Annie Cambria. It’s likely the district won’t be able to net the $84 million in tax credits allocated for the second phase this year, or even next year, she said.
That’s likely not welcome news to schools still conducting business in modular units, waiting for a new building.
Still, Cambria stressed that there are other options if Orleans Parish’s applications aren’t picked from the pool of close to 300 entities competing nationwide. The School Board and the RSD, which are both applying for these credits through a community development corporation both entities created, could pay a middle-man to help them net the cash, like a bank, for a fee.
“It’s not like we’re dead in the water if we don’t get this,” Cambria said.
Other meeting discussions centered on schools’ misconceptions that any tax credits netted would mean added cash to be spread around, an idea that was emphatically shut down by School Board member Woody Koppel: “This is what you’ve been promised and awarded in the master plan, and its not going to change.”
The members also brought some reality to schools’ ideas that every building that seems to be open now is move-in ready.
“There’s a charter, Bricolage, that has their eye on the McNair building. The McNair building won’t be available until 2016,” said RSD director of capital improvements Lona Hankins.
Reporter Jessica Williams’ tweets from the meeting are below.