Jefferson Parish voters narrowly reject school tax increase

By Littice Bacon-Blood

Source: | The Times-Picayune

November 18, 2017

Jefferson Parish voters narrowly rejected a new 8.45-mill property tax Saturday (Nov. 18) that school officials requested to boost teacher pay.

With more than 41,600 votes cast, the tax was rejected by a margin of 484 votes.

The tax was proposed to increase the starting pay of first-year teachers who district officials say lag other New Orleans-area school districts in compensation. It was projected to generate $27 million a year, enough to also cover across-the board-raises for the district’s 6,600 employees.

Of those employees, 3,350 are certified teachers, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit watchdog group.

The school district “loses experienced teachers and loses out on new teachers due to a starting salary that ranks us last in our region,” Superintendent Isaac Joseph said in promoting the tax initiative.

The proposal would have increased a starting teacher’s annual salary in Jefferson Parish $4,000 a year to $44,949. The pay raise would have made Jefferson Parish the second-highest starting salary among eight districts in the metro region, according to data compiled by school officials.

Jefferson, with more than 50,000 students, is the largest public school district in the state. The school system currently collects 22.91 mills, generating $82.3 million a year. The millage rate hasn’t increased since 2003, school officials say.

Under the proposed tax, certified teachers would have received a $4,000 a year increase; other employees who make more than $20,000 would receive $3,000 a year raises and employees making less than $20,000 would receive a 10 percent salary increase.

The tax would have cost the owner of a $200,000 homestead-exempt house an additional $105.63 a year. For a business with an assessed value of $250,000, the tax would have added $295.75 a year.

The proposed 10-year tax drew opposition from the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit group. Its report accused school officials of rushing their proposal without a “comprehensive study necessary to justify the proposed raises.”

BGR said the school district should have completed its facilities assessment before putting the salary tax on the ballot. The study, which is expected to be completed by early next year, could spark yet another tax request, the group said in its report.

“Further, the School Board did not carefully consider the pay raise proposal in the context of other system priorities, including facilities. Before the School Board asks voters for a major tax increase, it should comprehensively examine its funding needs and priorities.”

School officials, however, said salary increases are an immediate need that can be addressed with the property tax. The assessment of the system’s facilities has been debated for years and is a “more complex” issue that hasn’t drawn consensus from the board as to what is needed, according to information on the school system’s website about the property tax.

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