Ascension voters to decide three school taxes May 4

Voters in Ascension Parish will choose to renew or end three school taxes that account for $31.3 million of the school district’s annual budget at the May 4 election.

The three property tax renewals are dedicated toward teacher salaries, technology and facility maintenance. Early voting begins Saturday and ends April 27.

The largest of the taxes, a 21-mill parishwide property tax, is expected to generate $19.9 million that will be dedicated toward teachers’ salaries.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol said there’s “no better investment” parish voters can make in children’s educations than the quality of teachers they have. The passage of the tax renewal, she said, is “critical” for the district’s ability to maintain the type of teachers it currently has.

“The most important thing that happens in a child’s education is the quality of the teachers in the classroom,” Pujol said. “One reason we have high-quality teachers is we pay competitive salaries.”

In the latest school performance scores released by the state Department of Education in October, the Ascension Parish school district ranked seventh in the state and was only one of seven districts to receive an A grade in the assessment.

The second proposition is the renewal of an 8-mill property tax that is dedicated to technology — for both classroom instruction and security infrastructure. It is expected to generate approximately $7.6 million annually.

Pujol said the district has made many technological advancements in recent years and was one of the first two in the state certified as ready to handle the coming online assessments as part of the switch to the Common Core State Standards.

Moving forward, she said, more and more resources will be needed electronically, and the renewal of the millage is key for being ready to handle those changes.

“There’s no doubt that the future of education is to create a technology-rich environment for kids because that’s the world in which they will live and operate,” Pujol said. “We have to prepare them for it.”

The final renewal is a 4-mill property tax that is expected to generate $3.8 million annually that will be dedicated to school building maintenance.

The district is in the midst of a $100 million construction project that was approved by parish voters in 2009. Pujol said this tax renewal wouldn’t fund any new, large-scale construction projects, but it would be used to help maintain the district’s schools.

“You’ve got to fix the broken door knobs, keep the air conditioners running and do all the maintenance that these facilities require,” she said.

Kathryn Goppelt, the chairwoman of the Ascension Republican Parish Executive Committee, said her organization has endorsed the three property taxes for the school system.

A self-described “fiscal hawk,” Goppelt said Pujol gave the group a presentation showing how the money was being used, and ARPEC was “very pleased and glad to support those renewals.”

“We told her, ‘You’re doing a great job and you have an excellent school system,’ ” Goppelt said. “We don’t mind supporting people who are using money responsibly. We’re not against everything. We really want people who take taxpayers’ money to use it responsibly.”

The salary and maintenance taxes expire in 2014, and a renewal would expand them 10 years through 2024. The technology tax expires in 2015 and would be renewed until 2025.

On a $150,000 house with homestead exemption, the combined 33-mill tax would cost homeowners approximately $247.50.

Pujol said district officials have been proactive in trying to spread the word about the importance of the tax renewals, and she feels confident residents will support them.

“I think the thing that distinguishes Ascension Parish from other parishes in the state is we have enjoyed that public support both at the ballot box and at our schools,” she said.