Chamber, school officials discuss magnet program

A member of the Hammond Chamber of Commerce said the organization would be willing to support a proposal to expand magnet educational programs throughout Tangipahoa Parish.

However, the group would prefer the plan be funded through a parishwide tax, rather than an increase in Hammond’s magnet millage, chamber member Greg Drude told the Tangipahoa Parish School Board on Tuesday.

School Board member Brett Duncan has proposed the school district expand its magnet programs and create regional attendance zones to enhance school choice and competition throughout the parish.

He has said the plan would require no new taxes, but would require a renewal or possible increase of Hammond’s existing 9-mill ad valorem tax supporting magnet programs in the city. The magnet millage will expire after this school year.

Duncan said his proposal would help desegregate the parish’s schools and negate the need to build three new elementary schools and significantly redraw attendance lines as required under the school district’s court-ordered desegregation plan.

Construction of the schools would cost an estimated $54.5 million and require annual bond payments totaling $4.5 million, according to system documents.

Duncan said the district can ill afford to make those payments while facing a projected deficit of $12.1 million for 2013-14. Duncan spoke to the chamber’s Education Committee earlier Tuesday about his proposal.

Drude said it was a plan the group could accept.

The School Board already has been successful in implementing magnet programs in Hammond, Drude said, and “we would like to see them continue to grow, not just in Hammond but throughout the parish.”

Drude said, however, if only Hammond taxpayers would be financially supporting magnet programs, the chamber would want assurance that any potential increase in their millage would remain in the city.

“For us to support it, we need to feel safe that if we pass an extra millage, there’s no shifting of funds,” Drude said.