State of Jefferson 2019

After another year of growth, leaders in Jefferson Parish set their sights on improvements and economic development for the next decade.

“The state of Jefferson Parish can be defined as financially strong, robust with growth and poised for its best days.”

The proof of this statement, delivered by Parish President Mike Yenni in an introductory video, was presented to residents, business leaders and government officials at the State of Jefferson luncheon on November 21, 2019. The annual event is an opportunity for parish leadership to highlight both the successes of the past year and major upcoming initiatives for continued growth. Joining Yenni on stage to support that cause were Cynthia Lee-Sheng, At-Large Councilwoman for Division B and President-Elect of Jefferson Parish, and Dr. Cade Brumley, Superintendent for Jefferson schools.

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Yenni’s message largely focused on improving the quality of life for residents, touching on the wealth of personal opportunities and the constantly improving infrastructure. An estimated 205,000 workers are making wages above the national average, leading to an increase in home sales at about 5% since last year. In addition, 27 area schools are rated at the A or B level, with curated startup programs focusing on early education.

With personal property in the region valued at $4.5 billion, the parish is reinvesting almost $400 million tax dollars in infrastructure improvements for roads and public bridges. Yenni’s prepared video boasted the repairs of over 5,000 concrete panels, 21,000 potholes and 20 miles of roads just this year. To further address the parish’s relationship with water, the public works department cared for 1,600 miles of drainage pipes, 250 miles of canals and ditches, 1,300 miles of sewage lines and 71 pump stations, amounting to 189 total pumps. Almost 16,000 storm drains and structures were cleaned, and 93,000 linear feet of drain lines were cleared. These efforts earned Jefferson a Class 5 rating with the National Flood Insurance Program, a distinction that could reduce insurance policies by as much as 25%.

For her presentation, Lee-Sheng outlined notable achievements and programs of the five district council members and fellow at-large member. Keith Conley, At-Large Councilman for Division A, has been heavily involved in the reinvigoration of Avondale Marine, which sits on the former Avondale Shipyard, to ensure job creation and increases in daily activity. To that end, the Avondale Industrial Marine Overlay District is working to facilitate land uses and restricting unrelated commercial uses.

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Conley has also been instrumental in the development and implementation of the Major Crimes Taskforce, a security force which began on the Westbank and has expanded to the East and Jefferson Parish. Involved officers have arrest authority across Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes, where they are actively working with federal agencies to reduce crime rates. In November, the taskforce seized almost 350 pounds of marijuana, with a value of 1.2 million.

Ricky Templet, Councilman for District 1, has been working to address quality of housing structures in the area, as a housing initiative in partnership with JEDCO revealed that 74% of structures are over 40 years old. Many of these efforts will be directed to Terrytown, which Lee-Sheng says has “incredible bones and history” but which is comprised of mostly aging structures. Templet sponsored the Restoration Tax Abatement program in order to spur investment and development in the area.

Coastal restoration initiatives are also at the forefront of Templet’s efforts, with three critical projects — the Grand Isle Gulf Side Breakwaters project, the Grand Isle Bayside Breakwaters project and the Queen Bess Island restoration — setting the tone for coastal restoration and preservation, along with the re-population of the Louisiana pelican.

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Paul Johnston, Councilman for District 2, is leading the development of projects such as Elmwood and the Barataria Health Park, which include a walking trail, pavilion, playground and fitness area. He is also ramping up drainage improvements across the parish, with $200 million already spent on drainage work in that district. Mark Spears, Councilman for District 3, is spearheading signature initiatives such as the Marrero farmers market, the Martin Luther King playground track, and a new golf driving range in Jefferson Parish, the only one of its kind in the area.

For District 4, Councilman Dominick Impastato is leading the development of Lafreniere Park and is hoping to form a public-private partnership that could yield $2 million in soccer field upgrades, with additional plans including new food vendors and a sculpture garden. Impastato is also working with an engineering firm to analyze the possibilities for canal coverings. Finally, Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken for District 5 recently secured a $2 million grant from the National Coastal Resilience Fund to build out Bucktown Harbor, which will help to sustain the marshland’s shoreline.

Rounding out the presentation was Superintendent Brumley, who described 2024, a strategic five-year education plan which seeks to increase the quality of early education. “How do we succeed?” Brumley said. “It starts with all students being kindergarten ready.”

Brumley said that by the end of the third grade, a student who is not on grade level with their peers is three to four times more likely to drop out of high school. Additionally, students who are not sufficiently credited to be classified as sophomores after a year of high school are also at risk for dropout. In order to curve that effect, Brumley said more action must be taken at the eighth-grade level to ensure that when students enter high school, they are on track to become sophomores with the rest of their peers. This has a direct link to the quality of the Jefferson Parish workforce, and Brumley said it should be a priority for all citizens.

Brumley outlined six key priorities for the administration: provide safe, healthy and modern schools; hire and keep the best teachers; this should be something else; use a robust curriculum with a lot of science; prioritize access, equity and opportunity for every child; and partner with families, community members, the school board, agencies and other stakeholders.

The public-school system has already notched several successes in those arenas, too; Brumley said that this past school year started with only 22 teacher vacancies, down from 109 just two years ago. New K-8 schools have been established in the area, with ESL programs implemented to support students who speak primary languages other than English. The administration has also launched an adopt-a-school program, which allows the community to partner with and support individual schools. For the first time in four years, Brumley said, the parish’s district performance has been raised — from a 70.6 to a 71.5. And by 2024, Brumley hopes that 90% of students entering high school will graduate within four years, ready to start successful careers and contribute to a thriving workforce.

But that work is not done yet, as Brumley said challenges like community after school programming, finding even more talent to lead classrooms, focusing more efforts on non-English speaking students and diminishing the poverty levels in the area will have a substantial impact on continued economic development. Affecting such change will take coordinated efforts with government leaders at all levels, along with the support of citizens. “The best thing you can do,” Brumley finished, “is be informed about the school system.”

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