Boards vote to support 2 Tangipahoa school tax propositions

Two Hammond economic development boards approved resolutions Thursday in support of a pair of Tangipahoa Parish school district tax propositions on the May 4 general election ballot.

Members of the Hammond Area Economic and Industrial Development District and the Hammond Industrial Development Board went on record in support of a 5-year, 15-mill tax to fund magnet programs in Hammond schools.

The boards also resolved to support a parishwide proposition to rededicate an existing 1-cent sales tax to expand its use beyond equipment related to capital expenditures to include other maintenance and operation costs.

“Education is the No. 1 issue for economic development in this parish,” said Robby Miller, president of both boards. “We have all the other tools we need, including two intersecting interstates, an airport, rail and port access. The school system is the last piece of the puzzle.”

Before amending the agenda to add the resolutions, board members heard from Patricia Morris, president of the Tangipahoa Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, regarding the organization’s stance on the tax proposals.

Morris is the court-appointed representative of the black community in the school district’s 47-year-old desegregation case.

“We didn’t actively support the magnets at first because we wanted to see the results,” she said. “But now that we’re seeing positive results, we won’t fight the magnet tax because the programs are doing a lot of good for the schools.”

The parish NAACP chapter is especially interested in any emphasis the district will place on science, technology, engineering and math disciplines, as well as skills training programs, she said.

Morris also said that, while she supports a rededication of the 1-cent sales tax to channel more money into the classrooms, she believes the school district should first seek approval from U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who presides over the desegregation case.

“The judge had attached that sales penny to the current desegregation order,” which requires the district to build three new elementary schools at an estimated cost of $54.5 million, she said.

Morris, other community leaders and district officials have said the construction is not feasible after parish voters in April 2011 overwhelmingly rejected a tax package to fund the current order’s requirements.