Jefferson School Board asking voters to approve new tax for teacher raises

By Littice Bacon-Blood

Source: | The Times-Picayune

November 6, 2017

The Jefferson Parish public school system is asking voters to approve a new 8.45-mill property tax on the Nov. 18 ballot that school officials say is needed to boost teacher pay.

The tax would help increase the starting pay of first year teachers that district officials say lag other New Orleans area school districts. The tax, which is projected to generate $27 million a year, would also fund 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 agency.

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 says in promoting the tax initiative. “The increase will rank Jefferson Parish starting teacher pay second in our region.”

If the tax is approved, the annual starting teacher’s salary in Jefferson Parish would increase $4,000 a year to $44,949. The pay raise would make Jefferson Parish the second-highest starting salary among eight districts in the metro region, according to data compiled by school officials.

At an annual pay of $46,300, Plaquemines Parish currently pays the highest starting salary for first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree. The comparison also included St. Charles, East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany, Ascension, St. John the Baptist and Orleans parishes.

Jefferson, with just over 50,000 students, is the largest public school district in the state.

The school system currently collects 22.91 mills that generates $82.3 million a year. That millage rate hasn’t increased since 2003, school officials say.

Under the proposed tax, certified teachers would receive 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.

If approved, the tax would 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 cost $295.75 a year.

The proposed 10-year tax has drawn opposition from the Bureau of Govermental Research, a nonprofit group, that accuse school officials of rushing into the tax without a “comprehensive study necessary to justify the proposed raises.”

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

“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, say salary increases are an immediate need that can be addressed with the property tax, which was approved for the Nov. 18 ballot on a 7-1 vote by the school board. The assessment of the system’s facilities has been debated for year 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.

Early voting for the Nov. 18 election is underway and continues through Saturday, with the exception of Friday, which is Veteran’s Day and a state holiday.

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