On the Ballot

Jefferson Parish voters overwhelmingly approve tax raise to pay teachers more

By Faimon A. Roberts III

Source: The Advocate

May 4, 2019

Jefferson Parish voters on Saturday resoundingly approved a new 7.9-mill, 10-year property tax to fund raises for teachers and other employees.

The proposal from the Jefferson Parish School Board garnered 72 percent approval.

In unrelated elections, the parish’s voters also renewed for 10 years a 1-mill tax to support the Coroner’s Office, and voters in two West Bank precincts passed a special assessment to help prop up the struggling Timberlane golf club.

The school-pay measure, which had the endorsement of the teachers union as well as parish business groups, will boost the salaries of the parish’s public school teachers, especially those in the early stages of their careers.

“I’m grateful Jefferson Parish came together to make an investment in the future of our parish through our workforce,” Schools Superintendent Cade Brumley said Saturday night. “This vote is validation of the bold steps we have taken and the ambitious course we have set for our children.”

The raises are necessary, school officials argued, to stem the tide of teacher attrition and help lure higher-quality applicants. For openings in some subject areas, Brumley said, the school system has had trouble attracting even one certified applicant.

Because the parish has lagged behind surrounding parishes in teacher pay, many young teachers bolt to other school systems as soon as they are able, Brumley said.

The problem is not new: Jefferson school administrators have lamented the attrition and difficulty filling jobs for years. Less than two years ago, a slightly larger tax proposal was narrowly rejected by voters.

That proposal called for across-the-board raises rather than targeting them at the teachers the system has the most trouble attracting and keeping. Business groups and the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonpartisan research outfit, refused to support it, and turmoil on the School Board also hurt its chances.

There was little, if any, organized opposition to this year’s proposal. It gained endorsements from the gamut of interested groups, including the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson Business Council. BGR also gave it a thumbs up.

The new tax is expected to generate about $29 million per year. When combined with another $5 million in cost savings that have been enacted, the new pay plan will raise beginning teacher salaries from about $41,000 to about $46,000. That would make Jefferson’s starting teachers the second highest-paid among public school systems in the New Orleans area.

The proceeds will also be used to offer additional stipends to teachers willing to teach certain hard-to-staff subjects, especially the sciences, math, English as a second language and special education. Extra money will also be available for teachers at target schools, many of them the ones with the biggest challenges.

The tax will cost a homeowner about $79 for every $100,000 in value above the homestead exemption.

Boosting teacher pay is a key part of the five-year improvement plan Brumley unveiled earlier this spring. The plan set ambitious targets: turning the C-rated system into an A-rated system, improving facilities and developing programs that help address the significant percentage of Jefferson students for whom English is a second language.

In the only other parishwide election in Jefferson, more than 70 percent of voters threw their support behind a 1-mill, 10-year tax renewal that provides about two-thirds of the $6 million budget of the Coroner’s Office.

The office handles approximately 3,500 death investigations, 15,000 calls for mental health commitments and 400 rape and sexual assault investigations per year.

The parish’s only close election was in the two precincts that make up the Timberlane neighborhood, where a slight majority approved the levy of a special assessment on residents. The assessment, which could be as high as $1,950 per year, will help rescue the golf club at the center of the subdivision from financial ruin, proponents argued.

It will generate about $1 million per year to help support the club. It will expire after 10 years if not renewed.

Voters approved the measure by a 343 to 326 margin.

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