LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board will have some homework to do if it opts to ask voters to pass a tax on a spring ballot to support instructional programs and facility needs, a consultant told the board Wednesday.
The community education plan committee has been meeting since March to devise a funding strategy to support educational programs in the district’s turnaround plan and facility construction and repair needs, said Brent Henley, a consultant who facilitated the committee’s meetings.
The community education plan committee is made up of volunteers, including community members, parents, teachers and other district employees.
Henley presented an overview to board members Wednesday of the committee’s work and a summary of its potential recommendations. The committee holds its final meeting on Oct. 28 to come up with a final recommendation to present to the board next month.
A poll, paid for with private dollars, could help the board decide whether there is sufficient community support for the tax, Henley said. If there is, he said, the board should consult with public relations professionals to raise awareness about the district’s needs.
The committee is leaning toward a combination of sales and property taxes to fund district needs and has suggested May 3 as an ideal ballot date, Henley said.
Investment in the public school system is critical to putting the turnaround plan into effect and to the future of the parish, Henley said, speaking on behalf of committee members.
The estimated cost of facility needs is about $500 million, based on the first phase of a facilities master plan created in 2010 and a list of campus-by-campus needs identified by principals.
Henley’s committee report was on the agenda for informational purposes and no action was taken.
Voters defeated a property tax proposal to fund more than $560 million in school construction and major repairs identified in the first phase of the facilities master plan in October 2011.
“How much was the previous election taken into consideration,” board member Mark Cockerham asked.
The results and outreach prior to the election shaped the committee’s discussions, Henley told him.
“You can’t keep going back to the voters asking for these things, so we want to do it right and one way to do it right is to understand all the gaps,” Henley said.
Board member Tehmi Chassion asked Superintendent Pat Cooper if there was a backup plan if a tax failed.
Cooper responded that based on current projections the district may have a $13 million deficit in its next fiscal year and that amount doesn’t take into account any new unfunded state mandates that arise in the next school year.
“That’s pretty grim because we had about a $12 million deficit this year,” Cooper said.
Last year, the district implemented the first phase of its turnaround plan, a six-year plan that was designed to improve district performance from a C rating to an A. The district now has a B rating.
“We didn’t really fund any of the turnaround program this year,” Cooper said. “We’d probably have to do away with a lot of what we accomplished in the first year and then some. We certainly wouldn’t have the dollars to renovate and build new schools.”
Also on Wednesday, the board voted 7-3 to pay all of its bills except one — a $5,100 bill from Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, whom he hired in defense of allegations made by the board earlier this year that he violated board policies.
Board members Hunter Beasley, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion voted against excluding the legal bill from payment.
During its meeting, the board revisited a decision made on Oct. 2 to approve a new administrator of its self-funded insurance plan for employees after its board attorney suggested that it rescind the decision because the issue didn’t receive a two-thirds majority vote to move it from an introduction item to an action item.
The board voted unanimously late Wednesday to ask for a legal opinion of its actions related to the selection of Key Benefits Administrator as its new third-party administrator.