Ascension voters urged to approve 3 school taxes May 4

School officials in Ascension Parish are preparing a public awareness campaign for three upcoming tax renewals on the May 4 election ballot.

The three taxes, which together generate 33 mills, are dedicated for salaries, technology and facilities.

The largest, a 21-mill tax that brings in approximately $20 million per year for salaries, expires Dec. 31, 2014. Superintendent Patrice Pujol said its passage allowed the district to increase its pay scale for teachers, and it will be critical to maintaining a competitive school district.

Also expiring in December 2014 is a 4-mill tax dedicated to facilities. That tax generates approximately $3.8 million a year, which is used for various construction projects across the district. It is separate from a $100 million capital improvement revenue bond issue that was passed in 2009, though Pujol said that it likely will need to be renewed as the district will be required to build new schools to keep up with continued population growth.

The third tax, an 8-mill technology tax, expires on Dec. 31, 2015. Those mills account for approximately $7.6 million per year and have been vital for several programs, Pujol said.

The district has expanded its one-to-one laptop program, and the tax has helped the district become one of only two recognized by the state as ready for online assessment testing, which Pujol said is coming in 2015.

“These are critical, critical millages to the success of our school system,” Pujol said.

The most important aspect of raising awareness about the tax propositions, Pujol said, is getting voters to recognize these are renewals of existing taxes and not new taxes.

Ascension Parish voters handily defeated a proposed new road tax in November, and several parish government officials have said the message they are getting from constituents is that they want government to do more with less.

School district officials, however, have said parish residents continually have been supportive of funding school projects, and that’s part of the reason why the district is one of the top-ranked in the state.

“Every time we come to the public and ask our millages to be renewed, overwhelmingly you support us,” Pujol said.

In the meantime, school officials are devising a communication plan to let voters know how important passage of the three taxes is to the district. They are planning an advertising campaign that features print media, billboards, fliers, promotional mailings, television appearances and email communication. In addition, school officials plan to speak to various groups throughout the parish to seek their support.

At a recent meeting of the Ascension Community Coalition for Strong Schools, Pujol asked a group of some two dozen community leaders for their support in spreading the word about the tax renewal campaign.

“You will be hearing and seeing more publicity on this moving forward,” Pujol said.