Cooper presents new tax proposal

Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper on Wednesday floated the idea of a new property tax and sales tax package that would raise an estimated $540 million to pay for a school turnaround plan and major facility improvements.

The School Board took no action on the proposal Wednesday, but Cooper has asked the board to appoint a committee of community members that will vet the tax proposal and then present recommendations to the board, which has the ultimate say on what is brought to voters and when.

Cooper suggested putting the measure on the ballot in November.

The superintendent gave the board a rough sketch of the proposal: a 10-year, 15.5-mill property tax to fund school programming and a temporary 1-cent sales tax that could be approved for up to six years to fund facility improvements. He estimated the entire package could generate about $540 million.

Cooper said the proposal is subject to change but will hopefully launch a community discussion.

“I’m sure it will not look like this — I don’t expect it to — but it is a starter,” Cooper said.

Talk of the new tax proposal comes after voters in October 2011 rejected a 23-mill property tax to fund $561 million for new schools.

The tax increase would have funded the first phase of a proposed $1 billion school facilities master plan.

Cooper, who is wrapping up his first year as superintendent in Lafayette, said he and his staff have visited each public school in the parish to reassess needs and develop a pared down, less expensive plan.

Cooper said the new proposal is not to make facilities “look shiny or new” but to address the programs he’s trying to put in place.

“If we are trying to do more pre-K classes, we need more pre-K classrooms,” he said.

Cooper said at least two or three new schools will likely be needed in the parish.

There was little board discussion about the proposal.

Board member Mark Babineaux said he would have to see the grades from this school year to see whether the school turnaround plan has had an impact before asking voters for more taxes.

In other business, the board voted 7-1 to approve a contract with AMIKids, a nonprofit group that will provide intervention programs for troubled students at the N.P. Moss Preparatory campus.

The cost of the contract through the balance of this school year is $184,000.

The annual cost of the contract for a full school year is $368,000.

Cooper said the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and Lafayette city-parish government have pledged an initial $60,000 each to help pay for the program.