AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish School Board will seek court approval to resume collecting two millages supporting Hammond accelerated and alternative school programs.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the Hammond delegation’s recommendation to reinstitute the pair of ad valorem taxes previously approved by Hammond-area voters. Neither millage was collected in 2011.
The school system must seek U.S. District Court approval for the move because of a standing order in the system’s 47-year-old desegregation suit halting collection of one of the millages after its first year.
Once that millage would cease bringing in revenue, the programs were to be funded through a larger parishwide millage placed on the April 2011 ballot, said Chris Moody, board legal adviser.
The parishwide proposition failed by an overwhelming majority.
The two millages the board seeks to reinstate are a 9-mill, three-year tax voters approved in 2010 to support Hammond magnet school programs and a 3-mill, 10-year tax passed in 2006 to fund alternative programs for students with disciplinary problems, said Bret Schnadelbach, chief financial officer for the school system.
The magnet tax was not collected in 2011 because of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle’s order in the desegregation suit, Moody said.
The system stopped collecting the alternative program tax after the program at Northwood High School
in Amite closed in 2010, he said.
Levying the full 9 mills for the magnet programs would generate a little over $2 million annually and fund 30 positions, including six new positions, at Hammond schools predominantly in the areas of art, music and prekindergarten, Schnadelbach said.
The 3-mill alternative program tax would generate $683,562 annually, funding 12 existing positions and allowing the system to maintain four transition classes at Hammond Westside Elementary Montessori School, two at Hammond Eastside Elementary Magnet School, and one with a credit recovery component at Hammond High Magnet School, Schnadelbach said.
A homeowner with a $150,000 house and homestead exemption would pay $7.50 per mill, or $67.50 a year, for the magnet program tax and $22.50 annually for the alternative program tax, said Brady Sledge, chief deputy with the Tangipahoa Parish Assessor’s Office.
Revival of the two suspended tax measures may be only short-term, however, because the court is unlikely to allow the district to continue funding its programs piecemeal, said Brett Duncan, board Finance Committee chairman and a Hammond delegation member.
The school system is facing a projected $8.2 million shortfall for its $132 million, 2012-13 budget, according to recent figures released by Superintendent Mark Kolwe’s office.
“I don’t anticipate the judge will let us keep scrounging this thing together for much longer,” Duncan said. “I think everybody understands we’re basically doing all we can to fix our budget crisis and find all the grants, efficiencies and potential cuts we possibly can for next year before we have to go to the voters and ask for additional help.”
“I think the judge will ultimately make us go to a parishwide funding mechanism, but we want to make sure we try absolutely everything else first,” he said.
Superintendent Kolwe will offer specific proposals for addressing the district’s deficit at a special meeting of the School Board’s Finance Committee in the coming weeks, Schnadelbach said Tuesday.
Possibilities discussed at a financial summit on Monday include increasing class sizes, reducing starting salaries for new employees, decreasing the board-mandated minimum balance in the system’s general fund and calling for an election to increase ad valorem and/or sales taxes.
Duncan said he would like to schedule the special meeting at a time when the community-volunteer Financial Advisory Committee would be able to participate and give feedback on the proposals.
The system’s 2012-13 budget must be approved by Sept. 15, Schnadelbach said.