• 66°

MARY MEAUX — It’s now PNG’s turn to fund new schools

Voters in the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District will go to the polls Nov. 5 and decide on a $130 million bond proposition to build four new elementary schools in a district, paring down from seven, where the average age of the facilities is 64.

The student population has grown considerably since those schools were built. Superintendent Mike Gonzales told a crowd of district patrons during the first of two scheduled informational meetings recently that most elementary schools are at the 22-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio maximum size classroom. There is no funding to add another teacher should additional students enroll so hiring an aide is the option.

Then there is the odd scenario where a student and his family live very near an elementary but are bused to a further one. This usually happens when someone moves into the district and enrolls late, Gonzales said.

Since the One-Stop Registration held last month a whopping 614 students have joined the district — the average new enrollment in just over 100-plus. So far this year the total enrollment is 5,202, assistant superintendent Julie Gauthier said.

Should the bond pass; there would be two elementary schools in Groves; a prekindergarten to second grade at the current Groves Elementary School site and a third to fifth grade school at the current West Groves Education Center Site.

Port Neches would have a prekindergarten to second grade school at the current Ridgewood Elementary School and a third to fifth grade school at the current Woodcrest Elementary site.

A demographics study was conducted in 2015 — the first time district officials looked at bringing forth a bond. But industry changes occurred, then Hurricane Harvey blew though and the issue was put on the back   burner, so to speak.

And in planning for the bond, officials took into account overcrowding and looked to accommodate a 25% increase over the current enrollment. This fact alone is noteworthy as local industry is looking at expansion projects, which in turn means hiring more employees.

The aging schools come with a problem: maintenance. Gonzales noted that maintenance director Jeff Bergeron and his team has been busy; the air conditioning at Groves Elementary had some major issues and there was a power loss at Van Buren Elementary School and food was taken from the cafeteria to the adjacent middle school to keep from spoiling.

Maintenance costs are adding up as well; since March there was $11,000 for West Groves Elementary, a little over $50,000 at Groves Elementary, $11,000 at Port Neches Elementary and Taft School came in at $200,000.

Taft School, while in PNGISD, is located in the city of Port Arthur. It will be demolished should the bond pass.

For those that may have missed the bond informational community meeting, another one is planned for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 4 at West Groves Education Center, 5840 West Jefferson in Groves.

For more information about the bond, call 409-722-4244, ext. 1725 or access the bond’s frequently asked questions at pngisd.org.

Mary Meaux is a reporter for The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at mary.meaux@panews.com