Can board win enough trust for tax?
One year after Tangipahoa Parish voters overwhelmingly rejected four tax proposals that were part of the school system’s court-ordered desegregation plan, school administrators are once again floating the idea of holding a parishwide property tax election.
During an April 30 meeting of administrators, teachers, principals and other interested people, one of the first topics discussed was the benefit of a parishwide property tax to support school operations.
In order to make the case for a possible tax increase, school administrators must first make the case that the system needs the money.
School officials say the school system is the only one in the state that does not have a parishwide property tax, in addition to the state constitutionally permitted 4.06-mill tax, to fund school operations.
Instead, the parish’s school operations are funded by state Minimum Foundation Program dollars, a one-cent sales tax and the state constitution property tax.
Taxpayers in some of the smaller, community school districts within the parish pay additional property taxes to fund school construction in those districts, but taxpayers in other small districts pay no additional school property taxes.
This funding system ranks Tangipahoa Parish 63rd of 70 school districts in the state in locally generated revenue, officials argue.
Next to the two school systems with which Tangipahoa Parish is most often compared — Livingston and St. Tammany, both high-performing districts — the situation looks worse.
Tangipahoa Parish generates $300 in property tax revenue per pupil, according to documents distributed by administrators. Livingston Parish generates more than twice as much at $621 and St. Tammany more than nine times as much, at $2,790.
Tangipahoa Parish has also suffered — as all districts in the state have — from the freezing of MFP funding over the past four years.
At the same time, the district has been forced to increase its contribution to the retirement system, which will cost $6.5 million more in 2012-13 than it did in 2009-10, according to school system projections.
Health insurance costs have also increased, by more than $1 million over the past four years, officials said.
It is too early to tell if the bleak picture painted by Superintendent Mark Kolwe will be enough to sway the parish’s voters, many of whom don’t trust the School Board or the administration.
That mistrust played a large role last spring in driving exceptionally high voter turnout — 27.6 percent — for a tax-only election, in which more than 87 percent of the voters pulled the “no” lever.
Brett Duncan, who ran for the School Board in 2010 on an anti-tax, anti-desegregation plan platform, is now the board’s vice president and finance committee chairman. Duncan recently admitted putting a tax plan before the voters may be the district’s only option, especially if the federal judge overseeing the 47-year-old desegregation case orders it.
If Duncan is on board, and can convince voters in his Hammond district to support the School Board, then other anti-tax districts, such as Loranger, may follow.
If they do, then the system can begin to put the humiliating tax defeat of April 2011 behind it.
Faimon Roberts is a general-assignment reporter for The Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com.