Jefferson Parish backs tax for teacher pay raises
By Drew Broach
Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
May 4, 2019
With a new School Board, new superintendent and new goal to improve academic performance from a C grade to an A in five years, Jefferson Parish voters agreed Saturday (May 4) to raise property taxes for public education by $28.8 million. Approval with 72% of votes cast came 18 months after voters narrowly rejected a $27 million tax increase for the school system.
Voter endorsement of the levy amounts to an expression of confidence in Superintendent Cade Brumley, who was hired in March 2018, and the new School Board that was elected last fall. But Saturday’s proposal also was more nuanced than the one that the electorate defeated in 2017.
The failed tax provided across-the-board raises for almost all 6,600 employees. The new one, while raising pay for most everyone, targeted some of the extra money to teachers, especially those in hard-to-fill positions. Certified teachers make up about half of the workforce, but the independent Bureau of Governmental Research said almost three-quarters of the new money would go to teachers.
Voter turnout was 11.6%, even lower than the 15.6% who showed up to defeat the 2017 tax.
Jefferson is home to Louisiana’s largest public school system, with almost 50,000 students. It ranks 47th among 71 in the state for performance, and officials say low teacher pay is one reason.
As a result of the extra tax revenue, plus $4.5 million already in the school system budget, starting pay for a Jefferson teacher could rise to $46,000 a year, second-highest among seven southeast Louisiana public school systems. Jefferson pay is currently the lowest of the bunch, and school administrators say Jefferson has lost 1,500 teachers in the past three years.
The tax will add $117.71 to the annual bill for a homestead-exempt property valued at $224,000, the average sales price in Jefferson. For the owner of a $500,000 commercial property, the tax would cost $592.50.
Some opponents said the school system should cut more spending at its central office instead of asking property owners to pay more. Others said public schools don’t benefit adults without children still living under their roof and those who send their children to private schools. Jefferson Parish enrolls a higher percentage of children in private schools than all but seven of the 3,142 U.S. counties.
Brumley says a successful public system benefits everyone, even indirectly, with less crime, better health and health care, higher property values and good employees for businesses. The administration eliminated 10 central office jobs last summer and plans to cut five more this summer, he said.
A 1-mill tax for the Jefferson Parish coroner will be collected until 2030 after 72% of voters chose Saturday to keep it in place. The revenue provides more than half of the office’s operating budget.
The Timberlane Improvement and Beautification District narrowly approved the collection of a parcel fee of up to $1,950 per property. The 10-year assessment is expected to generate $1.01 million annually. A margin of 17 votes decided the race.
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