School tax millage proposed for West Feliciana Parish

West Feliciana Parish School Superintendent Hollis Milton is proposing putting a 10-year, 14-mill tax before voters to raise $3.7 million a year for school enhancements.

The money would be used to pay for teacher recruitment efforts and to increase course offerings, update facilities and stabilize the system’s finances.

Milton’s proposal calls for the West Feliciana Parish School Board to vote at its Feb. 25 meeting on putting the new tax measure on a May 3 ballot.

“We have a wonderful school district and now is the time to do something. Public education is the heartbeat of this community,” Milton told board members and the audience at Thursday’s special meeting.

Milton said the school system, ranked in the top 10 districts in Louisiana for academic achievement, has been plagued with financial problems caused by a lack of economic growth in the parish, declining tax revenue, state and federal cuts to education and rising health care and retirement costs.

School Board member Kevin Beauchamp said he knows some in the public will balk at new taxes. He also said the School Board does not take the new tax lightly.

“Nobody wants to pay more taxes,” Beauchamp said. “But the future of the school system rests on this man’s (Milton) shoulders and all of our shoulders. It seems like every time we put out one fire we have two more waiting for us. Somebody has to make these decisions and I guess we are the ones in the hot seat.”

Milton said he thinks the school system needs to move out of neutral.

“I think this community knows what it means to have special teachers in every classroom,” Milton said.

Right now, the West Feliciana Parish school system receives 35.96 mills in property taxes dedicated to education, an amount lower than school systems in Zachary, Central, Baker, East Baton Rouge Parish and Ascension Parish.

Milton’s plan would expand students’ college and career opportunities by creating new programs and hiring highly qualified teachers and retaining them at a time when there is a shortage of certified teachers and an increased amount of veteran teachers retiring.

According to the plan, $900,000 of the money raised each year would go to the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy federal grant.

Right now, the grant covers 75 percent of the salaries associated with the program while the school system is responsible for 25 percent.

However, the grant could end in the next year or so and the school system would be responsible for the entire program, Milton said. He called the literacy program crucial for student success.

“Our kids can’t be successful without those reading skills,” Milton said.

Besides new programs, the money raised by the new tax would unfreeze staff salaries, add academic stipends and increase salary schedules.

The money would also be used to improve school buildings, improve athletic facilities and pay anticipated recurring debt as well as health care and retirement costs.