East Feliciana faces ‘tough decisions’ after tax defeat

The East Feliciana Parish School Board faces some “tough decisions” after the defeat of a 38-mill property tax proposal on Saturday, School Superintendent Henderson Lewis said Thursday.

Voters rejected the tax-hike request by a margin of 3 to 1, according to official returns announced by the Secretary of State’s Office. A total of 3,629 voters cast ballots against the new tax, while 1,143 voted for it.

Voter turnout for the tax vote was just under 35 percent.

The measure passed at only three voting sites: the precinct for the town of Clinton, a rural precinct on La. 67 north of Clinton and Precinct 7C at the Ethel Fire Station, where only one person voted.

Lewis said academic requirements of the parish’s students are increasing as the new state-mandated common core curriculum is phased in, and the board will have to make major outlays for technology infrastructure including additional bandwidth for Internet access and computers for online testing.

State tests being given this week are paper-and-pencil tests, but all tests must be taken by computer in the 2014-15 school year.

The board’s Technology Committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider a proposal to join with about 30 other school districts trying to save money through bulk purchases of computers and software to meet the state’s requirements, Lewis said.

The board also must purchase new materials to introduce the common core curriculum throughout the district next year and find ways to tackle the top-priority maintenance projects in an estimated $8 million backlog.

With the tax failing, the board’s only recourse is to look carefully at the budget to determine if funds can be shifted from some areas to meet the unfunded mandates, Lewis said.

The budget examination may include looking at reducing the number of teachers and other positions, he said.

“It’s going to hurt us, but we don’t have any other alternatives,” he said.

The district is required this year to offer online courses if requested by students at its high school and alternative school, and the statewide cooperative may offer those courses at prices lower than private companies, Lewis said.