Photo: Orangefield Board of Trustees met Monday night in the new High School Library. RECORD PHOTO: Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers

For The Record

Orangefield fifth-graders will get to be the “big folks on campus” for another year as the district has announced that for the first time in almost 40 years, fifth grade will be part of Orangefield Elementary School next fall.

“Fifth graders were moved to the junior high in 1982, because of space problems,” schools superintendent Stephen Patterson explained.

“They’re better suited to be on an elementary school campus than in junior high, and now we have the space at the elementary campus.”

Classrooms were added in both the elementary and high school buildings as the school district has spent more than $8 million in repairs and improvements after Tropical Storm Harvey.

Orangefield school board members were full of good news to taxpayers at Monday night’s monthly meeting.

The meeting was held in the newly relocated High School Library, which still showed plenty of empty shelves as work continues by staff to move in.

For starters Monday, the board voted to keep the 20 percent district local homestead exemption. This is in addition to the $25,000 state-wide homestead exemption families may claim on their primary residence.

In nearby Jefferson County, only three of seven school districts still grant local homestead exemptions. Four of Orange County’s five give local homestead exemptions.

West Orange-Cove joins Orangefield with 20 percent, while Vidor and Little Cypress-Mauriceville are at 15 percent.

Bridge City ISD is the only district in Orange County not to grant a local homestead exemption, but on the other hand it is the only district in the county to offer a local-option exemption – 10 percent – for homeowners over 65 to go along with the state-wide $10,000 over-65 exemption.

Shaun McAlpin, assistant superintendent, told board members that in addition to keeping the 20 percent homestead exemption, Orangefield ISD will have the opportunity this summer to save the district more than a half-million dollars in interest payments.

That would come by refinancing some 2004 bond debt with lower rates.

“It does not extend the length of the bond,” McAlpin said. “We re-did the bonds in 2011 and saved $500,000 to $600,000.

“Our bond people are recommending these be done again, for a savings of $546,000.”

The savings will be passed on in lower interest and sinking (I&S) tax rates.

“Originally, when we took this bond, it set our I&S at 13 cents (per $100 value), and that was reduced to 11 cents in the 2011 refinance,” Patterson said. “This could take it down to maybe 10 cents.”

Speaking of money, Patterson said that Deb Gallagher of DRS (Disaster Recovery Services LLP), the federal grants consultant for OISD, believes the bulk of $2.5 million expected FEMA reimbursements will be in the district’s account in August.

Also, McAlpin reported that the district is rapidly repaying a $3 million short-term “bridge” loan it took while awaiting FEMA funds.

“It only costs us $40,000 a year in interest, but we want to get it off the books as fast as we can.”

“When it’s all said and done, our fund balance will be where it was at before Harvey, at $12 million,” Patterson said.

With new doors and door frames still to arrive, the flood repairs project is 95 percent complete, Patterson reported.

The trustees honored the district’s teachers of the year.

Kerri Arrington won for elementary school and Bridget Trawhon for high school. Shavonn Fountain won for junior high.

A seventh-grade reading teacher, Fountain also won the Wayne Reaud Excellence in Education Award from the Beaumont Foundation.

The boys golf team qualified for the first time to represent Orangefield’s boys at the state golf tournament and Alexis Sturrock and Cooper Lowe qualified for state in CX debate.