Ascension Parish to build $250,000 tutoring center in Donaldsonville

Ascension Parish Government and Sheriff Bobby Webre have entered into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, subject to Council approval, to establish a tutoring center in Donaldsonville.  It is an adjunct to the existing agreement to “facilitate the establishment of an early childhood development campus” on APSO’s property at 1200 St. Patrick St, formerly West Ascension Elementary.  According to the agreement recommended by the Council Finance Committee:

  • The Sheriff shall oversee remodeling and construction of the only structure remaining after demolition in October;
  • The Parish shall reimburse the Sheriff for the costs associated with the remodeling and construction of the structure(s) not to exceed $250,000.

Ascension Parish Library and the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Ascension program are also involved in the project.

“We’re going to pay for the remodeling in conjunction with the sheriff’s department,” CAO John Diez explained to six of the Finance Committee’s 11 members last week.

The action item had to be delayed during the meeting so that Councilman Michael Mason could arrive and achieve a quorum.  Absent were: Alvin “Coach” Thomas, Corey Orgeron, Dempsey Lambert, Chase Melancon, and Teri Casso.

“Ascension Parish Library has agreed to facilitate it and hire the tutors,” Diez added, explaining that the tutoring center would be open from 3-9 p.m. most days and during the summer.

One glaring omission, Ascension Parish Schools were not mentioned as a participating entity.  The School Board has not, to the utter disdain of certain Library Board members, expressed any willingness to put any money up.  Which begs the question, how will the Tutoring Center and, more broadly, the Early Childhood Development Center, be funded?

There are three Ascension Parish Government funds, in addition to the General Fund, which could arguably be tapped.  The Health Unit has a fairly robust balance…

Health Unit Fund

anticipated to be $4,453,213 by year’s end (according to the Adopted 2022 Budget Book).  It is paltry compared to Mental Health’s anticipated Ending Fund Balance, $10,905,051.

Mental Health Fund

Since it does not appear Ascension will ever build its own Juvenile Detention Center, how about the $8,605,500 expected to fill the Juvenile Justice Program’s coffers.

Juvenile Justice Program Fund

The last is a product of the Parish Council’s October 17, 2013 vote (only Bryan Melancon opposed):

To authorize a one (1) mill property tax to fund Participation Agreement(s) for the care and maintenance of juveniles awaiting prosecution for crimes committed in Ascension Parish, and subsequently to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, and operate a juvenile detention facility in Ascension Parish.

Since the voting public was excluded from its inception, the Council could justify the expenditure under the operative ordinance, or adopt a new on if necessary.

Coincidentally, the Finance Committee also recommended acceptance of new terms for St. Bernard Parish to house Ascension’s alleged juvenile offenders, $250 per day up from $200 per day in 2021.  The Juvenile Justice budget anticipates $837,000 in expenditures this year, $258,000 of which is earmarked for “Professional Services.”  ($525,000 goes toward Probation & Juvenile Court with $50,000 allocated to Pension Fund and $4,000 for Transportation).

The Health Unit’s parish-wide 2-mill tax is estimated to generate $3,116,500 according to the Budget Book; “to be be used to provide funds to the Parish to be used to maintain and support the Ascension Parish Public Health Center, including buildings, maintenance expenses and other related health care expenses?”  The language is part of the ballot initiative approved by voters on December 11, 2021.

Ordinance 18-3 spells out how the Mental Health tax, another 2-mill property tax collected throughout Ascension Parish, can be expended.  It reads, in pertinent part:

The Parish of Ascension Mental Health (Board) shall direct all of the resources of the mental health fund raised by a tax millage of Ascension residents to the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and/or addictive disorders. Services funded by mental health funds shall only be provided to Ascension residents. In addition, the following ancillary services may be provided using mental health funds:

(1) Evaluation and counseling for individuals and families, chemical, and addictive disorders.

(2) Psychiatric evaluation and medication monitoring for children, adolescents, and adults.

(3) Services or new programs dealing with the prevention, early intervention, drug education, or treatment for youth who are experimenting with alcohol or other drugs or other forms of addictive behavior.

(4) Other new programs and/or services that may be developed to meet the behavioral health needs of Ascension residents.

(5) The building or leasing of additional office/clinical space as needed to offer behavioral health programs in the parish, and the maintenance and operation of these buildings.

(6) Laboratory tests required for treatment of an individual’s behavioral health condition as ordered by a physician in cases where an individual is indigent and does not have the funds to pay for this service.

(7) Office supplies and equipment for effective and efficient operation of the behavioral health program.