School tax issue headed to West Feliciana voters

The West Feliciana Parish School Board voted Tuesday to send a new property tax to voters in May that, if passed, would raise $3.7 million a year.

The 10-year, 14-mill tax would be used to pay for teacher recruitment efforts and to increase course offerings, update facilities and stabilize the system’s finances.

Tuesday’s vote to put the proposed tax on the ballot was 5-2 with board members Sara Wilson-Rogers and James White voting against and board members Amanda McKinney, Kevin Beauchamp, David Cornette, Milton Coats and Kelly O’Brien voting in favor.

Beauchamp told the packed house that the board takes proposing a new tax very seriously.

“Nobody like taxes. We have an A class system here and we didn’t get here by accident,” Beauchamp said.

Wilson-Rogers said many of her district’s residents told her now was not the right time for a new tax. White said he knows the school district needs the money but said many residents in his district are against the proposal.

“I have four certified teachers that live in my district (who) can’t even get jobs here. How are they supposed to vote for a new tax?” White said after the meeting.

The majority of the audience praised the decision to send the new tax to the voters.

“If you want a good system, you have to pay for it,” said engineer Josh Norton, who moved to the parish in December because of the quality of the schools.

According to school district data, the new tax would mean a $175 annual cost for the owner of a home valued at $200,000. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 would pay $105 a year.

Right now, the West Feliciana Parish school system receives 35.96 mills in property taxes dedicated to education, an amount lower than school systems in Zachary, Central, Baker, East Baton Rouge Parish and Ascension Parish.

The school system ranks in the top 10 districts in Louisiana for academic success.

The plan would expand students’ college and career opportunities by creating new programs and hiring highly qualified teachers and retaining them at a time when there is a shortage of certified teachers and an increased amount of veteran teachers retiring.

In addition to new programs, the money raised by the new tax would unfreeze staff salaries, add academic stipends and increase salary schedules.

The money also would be used to improve school buildings and athletic facilities, including renovations at the West Feliciana Parish High School gymnasium.