School tax on East Feliciana ballots

The East Feliciana Parish School Board wants parish voters to approve a new 38-mill property tax in an April 6 election to help the school system meet new state academic standards and tackle a backlog of maintenance issues.

Early voting for the election will begin Saturday and continue through March 30, except for Sunday and Good Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Registrar of Voters Office, 11048 Bank St., Clinton.

If approved by the voters, the property tax increase would be the largest in the parish’s history, raising the parish’s total property tax rate by 80 percent.

The tax is covered by homestead exemption, and the owner of a home valued by the assessor at $100,000 would pay an additional $95 per year in school taxes.

The School Board estimates the 10-year tax would generate $4.4 million annually.

“That’s a lot of money to come out of this parish,” said Police Jury President Dennis Aucoin, who also asserted he is trying to get the public’s attention to defeat the measure.

Aucoin said if the tax passes, other parish agencies will lose tax revenues paid by railroad companies that choose East Feliciana as a domicile because of its tax rate, the lowest in the state.

School Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said the district vitally needs the new revenue to improve its academic performance on several levels.

The state Department of Education is requiring local districts to implement new, national curriculum standards, called Common Core standards, and Lewis said East Feliciana needs instructional materials to adapt to the new curriculum.

Also, the state is requiring computer-based accountability testing of students on the new standards, and East Feliciana Parish is one of many districts that lack the technology infrastructure to replace pencil-and-paper tests with computer testing.

The district also wants to recruit more high-performing teachers by raising salaries by $3,000 per year with some of the tax revenues.

The parish’s starting teacher salary of $36,664 a year ranks 49th in the state, according to an informational sheet the School Board prepared for the election.

The tax proceeds also would help the district cope with rising health insurance and retirement costs, Lewis said.

A 2008 survey identified $8 million in needed maintenance projects, Lewis said.

“Some of those items may have been addressed, however, for the most part, what was in that report still needs to be addressed. So today we can only imagine the costs for that deferred maintenance,” the superintendent said.