In The News › Property tax vote affects schools

Jul 7, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish, Schools

Property tax vote affects schools

Officials say improved quality relies on it

Monday, July 07, 2008
By Sarah Carr

A diverse coalition of supporters is trying to generate interest in an upcoming midsummer vote to determine whether public schools in New Orleans will continue to collect about $30 million annually in taxes for such purposes as dropout prevention and teacher salaries.

The property tax renewal election, scheduled for July 19, is the first since the governance structure of New Orleans schools changed dramatically in 2005. So far, most of the heavy hitters in local education and business circles — including the Business Council and the state superintendent of schools — support the renewal.

“This is just a renewal; we are not asking for additional funds,” Orleans Parish School Board President Torin Sanders said.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek added, “The amount of money at stake is about $1,000 per student, and we very much need the money in order to be able to deliver education services.”

If voters kill the renewal, Pastorek said, class sizes would likely increase throughout the city, and the Recovery School District might have to abandon its plans for an extended school day and year.

“You would be down to the kind of education we saw before the storm,” he said.

Voters will decide the fate of four millage renewals for schools. If all four are approved, that would mean about $4 million annually toward textbooks and instructional supplies, about $6 million for facilities maintenance and repairs, about $18 million toward teacher salaries and benefits, and about $4 million toward early childhood and dropout-prevention programs.

The money would be split between all types of public schools in the city — including those operated by the Recovery District and the Orleans Parish Schools, and independent charter schools.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a private, nonpartisan watchdog group that studies issues of public concern, supports the millage renewal. The group issued a report arguing that a “no” vote would “complicate the day-to-day operation of schools and threaten to undermine the reform movement.” A failure of the tax measure “would also send the wrong message to the volunteers and donors who are supplementing public resources,” the report said.

When the taxes were first approved in 1988, all public schools in the city were under the auspices of the School Board, the report notes. The public schools enrolled about 84,000 students at that point, compared with about 33,000 students now.

The bureau also said the city would lose out on upwards of $3 million in state money if the renewal is not approved, since state contributions are partially based on local “tax effort.”

However, the School Board could recoup some of the lost revenue if the renewals do not pass, by raising its general-purpose millage to the maximum level. The move could offset more than half of the $30 million loss each year.

While the report supported the renewal campaign, it also highlighted a number of uncertainties and points of confusion in the public education landscape when it comes to finances. Noting that it’s impossible to directly compare the budgets of the Orleans Parish Schools and the Recovery School District — which have different responsibilities and use different budget formats — it pointed out that per-pupil spending for both entities has gone up considerably since before the storm.

Even when unusual expenses related to the storm are discounted, the Recovery School District estimated spending at $12,000 to $13,000 per student, and in the Orleans Parish schools, $14,627 per student. That’s compared with about $9,000 per student before the storm.

Without discounting extraordinary expenses, both systems spend about $21,000 per pupil, the bureau notes.

In April, Pastorek put together a committee, headed by Tulane President Scott Cowen and Dan Packer, the retired president of Entergy, to lobby for millage renewal. The committee also is looking for ways the different systems can collaborate on services in an effort to trim costs.

Pastorek said that starting this month the Recovery School District will take over transportation and construction management services for the city’s schools, and the School Board will handle athletic services.

Packer said the committee already has put out one mailing promoting the millage, and plans to issue several more in the next two weeks. In addition, the School Board is spending about $250,000 on its campaign, including billboards, yard signs, and a radio and television campaign expected to begin 10 days before the election.

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Sarah Carr can be reached at scarr@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3497.

Jul 7, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish, Schools

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