School tax increase asked

East Feliciana to hold vote April 6 on 38-mill property tax; benefits cited

The East Feliciana Parish School Board voted Thursday to ask voters on April 6 to approve a 38-mill property tax increase for 10 years to support the parish’s school system.

Based on 2012 property assessments, the tax increase would provide about $4.4 million more each year to support the system.

The school system also would pick up about $1.46 million more in state Minimum Foundation Program funds because of the increase in local support, certified public accountant Tommy LeJeune told the board.

East Feliciana has a backlog of construction and maintenance needs, beats only St. Helena Parish for teacher pay in the immediate region and faces additional expenses to meet state requirements in technology and curriculum, board members said.

The parish also has the lowest total property tax millage in Louisiana, 50.8 mills in 2011, and some railroads doing business in the state are allowed to claim their domiciles in the parish with the lowest property taxes.

If the railroads changed domiciles to avoid paying higher taxes, the school system would lose about $342,500, LeJeune said.

Parish voters have not approved new taxes for schools in 31 years. The board now levies a 3.34-mill tax authorized by the state constitution and 17 mills periodically renewed by voters.

Although all 11 board members attending the meeting said they supported a tax election, they differed on how the proposition should be presented in a special election.

A motion to break the proposal into four separate propositions for technology enhancement, construction and maintenance, additional instructional materials and employee salaries failed by one vote.

Board members Beth Dawson, Melvin Hollins, James Cupit, Paul Kent and Mitch Harrell supported presenting voters with four choices, but they were outvoted by Olivia Harris, Michael Bradford, Deborah Spurlock Haynes, Broderick Brooks, Rhonda Matthews and Rufus Nesbitt.

Cupit and Harrell also voted later against presenting the tax proposal as one item. Board member Richard Terrell was absent.

The board also voted to issue $750,000 in special 15-year revenue bonds for some immediate building needs, primarily new heating and cooling systems in parish schools. The bonds will be repaid with proceeds from the constitutional tax.

Other items discussed during the meeting included:

BONUSES DENIED: The board voted 7-4 to accept Superintendent Henderson Lewis’ plan to deny bonuses to teachers in a teacher advancement program last year if they left the school system at the end of school year. The bonus, a minimum of $2,000, was to be awarded to teachers whose students met academic growth targets.

Lewis said 40 teachers who received TAP training left after school ended, and he followed the board’s lead in denying “13th checks” to teachers who are no longer teaching when the surplus, dedicated tax revenue is divided.

Former teachers Katie Andrews, Staci Williams and Maya Bennett protested the decision, saying the money was meant to reward their performance and was not presented as an incentive to stay in the district.

Only Dawson, Hollins, Cupit and Harrell supported giving the bonuses to former employees.