North Bossier district growing faster than planned

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Airline Principal Jason Rowland did the honors of breaking ground on Airline's new wing in 2015.
Amanda Simmons
amanda@bossierpress.com

North Bossier’s School Board representative is concerned that his district may run out of space for its growing population of students.

Dist. 6 representative Glen Bullard said his district may be in the midst of “a phenomenon that’s almost impossible to quantify or measure.”

“We’re seeing a transition in some of the larger residential areas that serve District 6. They are no longer housing “empty nesters.” Those homes are now back on the market and being purchased by young professionals with young families,” Bullard said. “I fear the numbers that have been used to project future student populations, especially at Apollo, Greenacres and Airline, are too low.”

There have been discussions about the projected numbers for these schools that say they will slightly decrease in student population over the next 10 years, Bullard said. That’s not something he’s confident in.

“District 6 has and will continue to be faced with the issues related to an ever-growing population. I keep hearing about proposed new developments that are going to put more and more pressure on our existing school facilities,” he said. “Those schools are said to experience reductions in student population over the next 10 years and there’s been talk about a drop in Airline’s student population. I am not comfortable, in my mind, saying that. I think we will meet or exceed those numbers in the next few years.”

That growth is one of the reasons the school board pushed for a $210 million construction bond in 2012, which the public did approve. The Bossier Schools website says Airline High School is the largest high school in Bossier Parish and is near capacity, given the tremendous growth in the northern part of the parish.

To accommodate a future student population of 2,000, the construction project at Airline is being done in a multi-phase approach.  An initial phase to refurbish restrooms, the auditorium, the cafeteria and a new outdoor dining commons is finished.  Construction on the new F wing is also finished and work has begun on the new E wing. There with renovations to the administration offices, media and lobby area.

Bullard is confident that the 2012 construction bond will meet the current and future needs for Airline High School. But there are two schools in his district that he fears did not get what they need to hold future growth.

“Airline is in good shape. I think we will certainly meet the demands there. We are going to have a wonderful facility that will provide our students with outstanding academic facilities,” Bullard said. “Apollo will have some needs to address there. Greenacres is possibly my biggest concern should we see the uptick in numbers.”

There was money allocated in the original plan to build classroom a new classroom wing at Greenacres Middle School and Apollo Elementary School. That money, however, was reallocated to another part of the district “because the demographer’s projections did not support the need for that funding,” Bullard said.

“Are we going to wake up five years down the road and realize we will, in fact, need that additional classroom space? I am concerned,” he said.

Bullard also feels there will come a time when a new elementary school is needed in his district. An alternative to that would be building additional classroom space and expanding facilities at Apollo Elementary.

“The quick, possibly most economical, way to address the growth is to expand the facilities at Apollo. They have plenty of room, great access and are centrally located,” Bullard said. “I feel like Apollo could become our safety net. We could build quickly and economically an additional classroom wing, expand the cafeteria and expand it to more than 1,100 students. The staff at Apollo has shown the ability to handle that situation without any real difficulty.”

Bullard is no stranger to how these decisions works. He was elected to and served on the Sabine Parish school board in the late 1990s.

“I was a business person with young children at the time and I was concerned about the proper utilization of our tax dollars,” Bullard said. “In 2002, I moved to Bossier and my interest did not go away. If anything, it was more pressing.”

Bullard said he was given the option to move anywhere in northwest Louisiana and he chose Bossier Parish, specifically the Apollo, Greenacres, Airline attendance zone for his children. He decided to run for the school board in 2010 and officially joined the Bossier Parish School Board in January 2011.

Bullard also serves on the Louisiana School Board Association’s board of directors.

“I get a full state perspective,” he said. “It’s a source of tremendous pride to hear people from across the state talk about Bossier Parish and the Bossier Parish School System and how exemplary our program. We are considered leaders. People know about us. They know what we are doing here. As long as we have that reputation, it’s going to influence people.”

He added that it’s very easy to brag on Bossier’s public school system.

“We have great leadership and a great leadership team in place. We have a very dynamic, progressive school board,” Bullard said. “Contrary to what some people may think, the child in the classroom is our number one priority in every decision.”

Moving forward, Bullard feels the future of Bossier Parish public schools is bright.

“I think we will see continued increases in academic performance,” he said. “There are programs being implemented by the superintendent and his leadership that has me convinced will result in significant improvement across the board.”

His biggest concern, though, is state funding.

“I’m not just talking about Bossier Parish. There are 69 different school systems in the state of Louisiana and all 69 derive a significant percentage of their annual revenue from the state,” Bullard explained. “We don’t know where that funding is going to go. There have been attempts to reduce it. That’s always a key factor and focus for the Louisiana School Board Association.”

Bullard thanked the citizens of Bossier Parish for their support of the 2012 construction bond. He’s also keeping an eye on legislators in Baton Rouge to see what they will do.

“The voters of Bossier Parish have been so good to provide us a good source of funding to take care of the extra things. But, more and more, we’re being faced with unfunded mandates,” Bullard said. “If they don’t increase MFP, that’s going to be an issue. I think this session will be a big indicator of what we can anticipate going forward.”

There are also unknowns from a national perspective.

“We’re dealing with a new president, new national government and a new secretary of education. Their focus seems to be not on traditional public education. What impact will that have? We don’t know,” Bullard said.

He continued, “The Bossier Parish School System is situated in such a manner that it will continue to excel forward. The big factor, in my mind, is if we will have the funding to maintain the programs we now have in place.”

Bullard is one of two representatives for the Airline district. He serves on the board alongside Mike Mosura from Dist. 5.

Calls to Mosura were not returned by press time.