Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, October 21, 2014

Number of failing schools in EBR doubles

The number of East Baton Rouge Parish schools receiving an F on the Louisiana Department of Education's latest annual report card for all public schools in the state, released this morning, doubled to 16 this year. The number of schools receiving an A, meanwhile, increased by two to 11.

A total of 84 EBR schools are included on this year's report card, up from 77 included in last year's report card. Of the seven new schools in the area, five are graded F, one received a D and one received an A.

Five schools saw their grades drop from a D last year to an F this year: Howell Park Elementary, Melrose Elementary, Merrydale Elementary, Park Forest Elementary and Children's Charter School. Two schools that were graded F last year improved their grade to a D this year: Claiborne Elementary and the Mentorship Academy of Digital Arts. Of the 11 A-graded schools in EBR, Baton Rouge Magnet High School had the highest overall score.

Statewide, the Department of Education says, schools are showing "steady progress with modest improvements." The number of schools receiving an A statewide increased by 54% to 241 this year, up from 187 last year. Nonetheless, A-graded schools account for just 18% of all schools, while 26% of the state's schools received a B, 26% a C, and 28% a D or F. The Department of Education has more details and the complete report card. —Steve Sanoski Read the full story.

Councilman questions attorney's role in city-parish's fight against St. George

Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso is raising questions about the role attorney Mary Olive Pierson is playing in the city-parish's legal attempts to fight the proposed incorporation of the city of St. George. Earlier this year, Pierson was hired—at $175 per hour, not to exceed $17,500—to defend the city-parish in a case filed by Woody Jenkins challenging the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana and other properties. Annexing property has become a key strategy in the city's efforts to fight St. George, and Pierson, so far, has been successful in defeating the Jenkins' suit.

But Amoroso says Pierson is going too far.

In published statements Monday, Pierson said the city would file suit to challenge the legality of an incorporation petition submitted to the Registrar of Voters by St. George organizers. She has also recently said she traveled on her own dime to Kansas City to meet with officials of L'Auberge Casino & Hotel to persuade them to sign a petition requesting annexation into the city.

"It is my understanding that Ms. Pierson's contract is limited only to the Jenkins' litigation …" Amoroso writes in a letter to Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Ann Batson. "It would appear that Ms. Pierson is expanding her contract as our lawyer without our authority."

Amoroso says he has heard from multiple constituents in his generally pro-St. George district that share his concerns.

Pierson tells Daily Report that while she technically does not have a contract with the city-parish to file a legal challenge to the incorporation petition, a legal challenge will be filed—even if she does it herself.

"I will file a challenge on behalf of somebody," she says.
—Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.

Office building on South Sherwood sells for $750K

A fully leased building in the CreekStone Office Park on South Sherwood Forest Boulevard has been sold for $750,000 to 11410 Lake Sherwood North LLC, the sole member of which is attorney Daniel Holliday, according to records filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court.

Bill Jeansonne with Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate, who represented the seller, DJ & ER Properties LLC—composed of Don Joffrion and Edward Rotenberg—says Holliday bought the property as an investment. Two tenants, Specialty Risk Associates and Assurance Financial Group, occupy the 5,192-square-foot building. The sale price works out to about $149 per square foot. Grey Mullins represented the buyer.

Saurage Rotenberg has developed and sold four other built-to-suit properties in the CreekStone complex, and has a sixth and final property currently under construction, Jeansonne says. According to a plan review application filed in June, that building will be an approximately 5,700-square-foot, two-suite building at 11414 Lake Sherwood Avenue North and is projected to cost about $510,000.

Other recent property transactions of note include the sale of a Walgreens at 5955 Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge, which sold for $5.54 million dollars to Arizona-based ARCP WG Portfolio I LLC. The seller was PENN 1031 LLC, a Michigan company represented by Arthur A. Weiss. —Kelly Connelly

Alford: Inside David Vitter's playbook

"Anyone who has served as governor will tell you it's not enough to simply be elected," writes columnist Jeremy Alford in his latest column. "To truly run a state like Louisiana, a governor needs a strong political infrastructure and a party that's willing to die on the sword." Alford says some governors lay their foundation as their campaign heats up, or even after voters give them the keys to the mansion in Baton Rouge, but others—like U.S. Sen. David Vitter—start much earlier.

"He's a man on a mission, and has been for a few years now," Alford writes. "While much has been made of the money underwriting Vitter's quest to become governor next year, his political machinations along the same path have gone largely unseen and underreported. But make no mistake: His moves are just as important as his money."

First and foremost, Alford says, Vitter can be credited as one of the chief architects behind Congressman Bill Cassidy's U.S. Senate campaign this year. Vitter's sights have long been set on incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, he says, and a victory for Cassidy would be a victory for Vitter.

"Landrieu has been a thorn in the side of Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Vitter surely wants to pull it out, albeit for his own sake," Alford writes. "Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, the other Republican running for the Senate, may have been more successful had Vitter not intervened. Vitter blocked major funding sources for Maness on the right in Louisiana, forcing the tea party favorite to rely heavily on out-of-state money."
Read the full column.

(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at [email protected].)

Despite GOP leanings, oil and gas industry donating more to Landrieu than Cassidy

As Sen. Mary Landrieu fights for her political life in an ever-tightening race against Republicans Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness, Reuters reports oil and gas interests are pouring money into the race—and giving twice as much to Landrieu as to her leading challenger, Cassidy. As much as the industry wants to see Republicans wrest control of the Senate, it has a bigger fish to fry in the Louisiana race.

Oil and gas interests want Landrieu to retain leadership of the energy panel and prevent another Democrat, Maria Cantwell, who backs an environmentalist agenda, from taking over the committee. Landrieu is a key ally the industry will support even if it costs Republicans the Senate, industry leaders tells Reuters. And they're putting their money where their mouths are.

Individuals employed by oil and gas companies and industry political action committees had given about $791,000 to Landrieu and $373,000 to Cassidy as of early September. Landrieu, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has received more oil and gas money than any other Senate candidate this cycle except Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the country's top oil-producing state, according to Federal Election Commission filings analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group.

Overall, the oil and gas industry has donated more than $36.5 million so far this cycle to campaigns throughout the country. More than $22 million went to individual congressional candidates, with more than $19 million, or 86%, going to Republicans and just over $3 million, or 14% to Democrats. Read the full story.

At $80 a barrel, oil muffles forecasts for US shale boom

The bear market in oil has analysts reassessing the U.S. shale boom after five years of historic growth. As Bloomberg reports, the U.S. benchmark price dropped to $79.78 a barrel on Oct. 16, the lowest since June 2012. At that level, one-third of U.S. shale oil production would be uneconomic, analysts for New York-based Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. say in a new report issued Monday.

Drillers would add fewer barrels to domestic output than the previous year for the first time since 2010, according to Macquarie Group Ltd., ITG Investment Research and PKVerleger LLC. Horizontal drilling through shale accounts for as much as 55% of U.S. production and just about all the growth, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency predicted in November that the U.S. would pass Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the biggest producer in the world by 2015. Though some forecasts show oil rebounding or stabilizing, any slower increase in U.S. output would shake perceptions for the global market.

Daily domestic production added a record 944,000 barrels last year and reached a 29-year high of 8.95 million barrels this month, according to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy's statistical arm. At $80 a barrel, output would grow by 5%, down from a previous forecast of 12%, according to New York-based ITG. At $75 a barrel, growth would fall 56% to about 500,000 barrels a day, Dwivedi says. Closer to $70 a barrel, the growth rate would drop to zero, he predicts. Read the full story.

News roundup: Houston firm secures $12M in financing to help reopen BR rubber plant … Ground clearance begins for Sasol project in Westlake ... Federal agency says oil exports would lower pump prices

In the bank: Houston-based Main Street Capital Corp. announced this morning it has secured $12 million in financing for Baton Rouge's East West Copolymer & Rubber LLC. In May, East West bought the former Lion Copolymer Holdings facility at 5955 Scenic Highway, which closed in December, and announced plans to reopen the plant. The $12 million in financing will be used for operating capital, as well as for reopening and expanding the Scenic Highway facility, Main Street Capital says.

On the ground: Site clearance for Sasol's ethane cracker project in Westlake is underway, as workers begin the task of preparing the land for construction. Mike Hayes, Sasol's public affairs manager for U.S. megaprojects, tells the American Press workers from Westlake-based Civil Construction are in the early stages of spot clearing. He says site clearance will most likely continue through the end of the year, with construction on the $7 billion facility expected to begin next spring.

One thing leads to another: Ending the United States' longstanding ban against most crude exports could lift oil prices inside the country while decreasing the cost of gasoline, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday. As FuelFix.com reports, the document—the first broad government analysis of proposed oil exports—dovetails with industry-backed studies predicting lower gasoline prices would result if repealing the export ban spurred more domestic crude production and helped lower world prices for the fossil fuel. Read the full story.

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