Two EBR school taxes on April 6 ballot

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS --  The exterior of the East Baton Rouge School Board offices building on South Foster Drive.
Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- The exterior of the East Baton Rouge School Board offices building on South Foster Drive.

Items up for renewal fund 11 percent of operations

East Baton Rouge Parish voters, except those in Baker, Central and Zachary, have two items on the April 6 ballot, renewals of property taxes that fund the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

The parish school system is asking voters to renew:

The taxes amount to a total annual tax bill of $34.23 for a home assessed at $100,000. They are subject to Louisiana’s homestead exemption.

Early voting for the April 6 election starts Saturday and ends March 30.

The taxes would be renewed through 2023 if approved.

East Baton Rouge Parish schools levy 43.45 mills in total property taxes.

The two taxes up for renewal raise $43.3 million combined. That represents about 8 percent of all school system revenue and about 11 percent of the money that funds its general operations.

The district educates almost 43,000 children.

The taxes on the April 6 ballot are in effect in all of the parish except for Baker, Central and Zachary, which have their own public school districts.

According the parish Registrar of Voters Office, 234,386 people are registered to vote in the April 6 election.

When the taxes on the April 6 ballot were last renewed in 2004, only 7 percent of the registered voters showed up. The two taxes were both renewed with the approval of 71 percent of those voting.

Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer for the school system, emphasized that the taxes have been around for decades.

“It’s a renewal; it’s not a new tax,” she said.

If voters reject the tax renewals on April 6, the school system will be able to try again. If the taxes have not been renewed by the time the 2014 property tax rolls are prepared, then the school system will have to make budget cuts for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

On March 7, Fletcher informed the School Board that the district is facing budget cuts for the next three years, with $30 million this coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, and $15 million more projected for 2014-15.

A $43.3 million cut on top of that inevitably would hurt teachers, who make up more than half of the school system’s nearly 6,000 employees, she said.

Teachers’ salaries and benefits would be cut automatically and, to make up the other cuts, the school system likely would have to have cut back on personnel costs, which account for roughly 80 percent of school system spending, Fletcher said.

“That’s got to impact the instruction of children,” she said.

As with past tax renewals, the school system has opted so far against a large public information campaign.

Susan Nelson, interim director of communications and external relations, said informational letters to employees and parents are supposed to be sent out later this week, and phone calls will be made Saturday to let people know about the start of early voting.