A new property tax, rising sales tax revenue and more state funds are behind a nearly $17 million increase in the St. Tammany Parish school budget for 2013-2014, passed unanimously Thursday by the School Board. The $383 million general fund budget, however, does not provide teacher pay raises or restore other benefits that were cut as funds grew tight over the last half decade.
A 3-mill tax property tax approved by the voters in May accounts for $5.1 million of the increase in revenue. Though the tax is technically new, school officials point out it is offset by a 3-mill reduction in another school property tax for debt service. Voters also approved in May rededicating a 3.44-mill tax to allow it to be used for teacher salaries and benefits.
An additional $2 million in revenue growth is projected to come from increased sales tax collections, according to the budget.
The budget anticipates $10 million in added state funding as well. That is partially due to a one-time allocation of nearly $5 million, half of which must be used for teacher stipends, Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Arabie said.
The rest of the increase comes from anticipated growth in the number of students attending parish schools and the attendant extra state dollars, which are allocated on a per-student basis. School officials expect more than 38,000 students to attend the parish’s 55 schools this year.
Despite the increases, Arabie said, the school system is not restoring extended sick time leave, pay raises or sabbatical leaves for professional development for teachers.
In addition, she said, administrators plan to carefully review whether any vacant positions need to be filled. At present, the system has almost 200 positions unfilled, which translates into a savings of nearly $9 million in salary and benefits.
The revenue gains are largely absorbed by increased expenses, particularly in state retirement and benefits, Arabie said.
For example, she said, retirement costs for 2013-2014 went up $5 million over last year, to $56.3 million.
The school system collects 68.18 mills in property tax, including 17.9 mills for its debt service fund, which is not included in the general fund balance.
The total collected is $115 million. Earlier this year, the voters in St. Tammany also approved the issuance of $135 million in bonds for school improvements.
The budget does not project that the system will be forced to dip into its $45 million fund balance.
Though the School Board passed the budget Thursday night unanimously and without comment, the budget has been in effect since July 1, something the school system has done for recent memory, spokeswoman Meredith Mendez said.