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|A+ rating aids parish schools|
For the first time ever, Ouachita Parish Schools has an A+ bond rating, a distinction that only a few school systems in the state enjoy.
The A+ bond rating was announced Tuesday during the school board's regular meeting.
Standard & Poor's, a national bond rating agency, upgraded the school system's bond rating from an A to an A+ after recently reviewing financial operations at the parish school system.
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber said the upgrade in the school system's bond rating was based on the determination that the school system's financial performance was sound.
Standard & Poor's report said the upgrade also was due to the school system's maintenance of a sound unreserved fund balance.
Grant Schlueter of the law firm Foley and Judell of New Orleans said the school system's upgraded bond rating resulted in a lower interest rate for some $5 million in bonds the parish school system is selling to help finance the West Ouachita School District. The improved bond rating means parish schools will pay less interest expense on the sale of the bonds, which will finance construction projects at western Ouachita schools. The improved bond rating also means the parish school system will have more money available for construction projects instead of pay interest expenses on the sale of bonds.
A sales tax is levied in western Ouachita to finance the West Ouachita School District.
"These lower interest rates will result in sales tax savings which can be applied to additional projects previously approved by voters," Webber said.
Schlueter added, "It's important for the school system as a whole, and not just the west side. They don't just look at the west side and the sales tax bond, how much coverage you have and how the sales tax is doing on the west side. They also look at the financial operations of the school board, whether you budget conservatively, whether you maintain good reserves, good fund balances. All of that goes into the equation in determining what your bond rating will be for a particular issue."
In upgrading the bond rating, Standard & Poor indicated it believes the outlook for the school board's future will be positive.
"The bottom line is the higher your bond rating goes, the less money you'll have to pay for interest, and the more money you'll have for school projects," Schlueter said. "When we do get upgrades on the east side, that will mean a lower burden paid by property tax payers. This puts you up in the top rankings of school boards in the state."
Schlueter attended the school board's meeting Tuesday to open bids for the sale of $5 million in bonds for West Ouachita School District.
Morgan Keegan submitted the lowest interest rate at 3.95 percent, which is the interest rate the parish school system will pay to finance the bond sale.
Schlueter said this interest rate is favorable considering the current financial situation throughout the United States.
The $5 million from the sale of the bonds will be used for capital improvements at several schools in western Ouachita Parish.
These improvements include renovations and improvements at the following schools: Boley, Kiroli, Claiborne, West Ridge, Crosley, Woodlawn, Pinecrest, and West Ouachita High School.
The school board will begin these improvements as quickly as possible, Webber said. The improvements involve adding new classrooms at some schools, and improving the entrance at others.