On the Ballot

Jefferson school tax proposal gets endorsement from Bureau of Governmental Research

By Faimon A. Roberts III

Source: The Advocate

April 9, 2019

Jefferson Parish’s proposed 7.9-mill public schools tax landed a significant endorsement Tuesday, when the Bureau of Governmental Research backed the measure.

The tax, which will appear on the May 4 ballot, would generate nearly $29 million a year in revenue, according to BGR’s analysis. That money would be dedicated toward giving raises to public school employees, especially those in the early stages of their careers.

Those raises, Jefferson schools leaders have said, are necessary to bring the system more in line with what surrounding parishes offer. They could also help stem the tide of teacher attrition, which has left the system with several hundred slots to fill each summer.

In 2017, a similar tax proposal was rejected by voters. BGR, a nonpartisan private research group, did not back the 2017 tax plan.

This year’s proposal is “a more well-developed pay raise proposal” than the 2017 measure, the group said.

The earlier effort was championed by controversial School Board member Cedric Floyd, who lost a bid for re-election last year. It would have given across-the-board raises to employees all the way up to the superintendent.

At the time, BGR said the school system appeared to have “rushed into this millage proposition without comprehensive research” and said it had showed “little evidence of a problem retaining employees other than early-career teachers.”

BGR said the new proposal would “boost teacher salaries to regionally competitive levels” and that “current revenue sources are not sufficient” to cover the needed raises. New teacher salaries would rise to about $46,000 per year under the plan. Raises at the higher levels would be smaller, as those salaries are already competitive with surrounding parishes.

The total cost of the pay raise proposal is more than $33 million, BGR said. The school system will look for savings within its current budget to fund the rest.

The new tax would cost a homeowner about $79 per $100,000 in taxable value above the homestead exemption, BGR’s report said.

Giving raises is a key part of the district’s five-year improvement plan, which was announced earlier this year. That plan also includes developing teacher and administration leadership programs and targeting certain schools and content areas with extra incentives.

The pay millage is the first of two major millage increases that system leaders have said is needed. A second, similar millage to help fund improvements to the system’s aging facilities was originally slated to be on the May 4 ballot as well but was delayed to give the pay-raise millage a better chance of passing. The May 4 ballot measure has been endorsed by the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson Business Council.

Early voting for the May 4 election begins April 20.

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