Tangipahoa School Board regroups after loss at polls

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board called a special meeting of its finance committee for May 15 to discuss how the district will regroup after voters narrowly defeated a property tax to support Hammond-area magnet programs.

Voters on Saturday rejected a 5-year, 15-mill property tax that was projected to generate $3.42 million per year and would have replaced a 9-mill tax that expired this year and a supplementary grant supporting the magnet programs.

In a separate parishwide measure, voters supported the rededication of an existing 1-cent sales tax to include not only capital projects — the tax’s original purpose — but also operational costs, including salaries and benefits.

As a result, the $17 million generated annually from the sales tax may help provide a life raft for the magnet programs, Superintendent Mark Kolwe said. But with other issues confronting the district’s 2013-14 budget, including increased retirement contributions and a reinstatement of step raises, there will be no easy solutions for the projected $9.3 million deficit, he said.

Fifty-two percent of the 1,966 votes cast Saturday were against the Hammond magnet millage, according to complete but unofficial returns reported by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office. The “no” votes carried 12 of the 29 precincts included in the parish’s Consolidated School District No. 1 as well as early voting, but the margin of defeat was only 76 votes.

School Board member Brett Duncan attributed the loss, in part, to the inclusion of some Ponchatoula precincts in the decades-old taxing district and perhaps a belief among Hammond proponents that other voters understood the importance of the millage for continuing improvement at the schools.

Finding additional funding for the programs is critical, Duncan said.

The school system’s current desegregation plan as well as a modified plan that is still in the proposal phase rely heavily on the district’s magnet programs to help voluntarily desegregate the schools, he said.

“There is no option of the magnet programs failing without it being absolutely devastating to the parish,” Duncan said.

In other business Tuesday, the School Board recognized Hammond High Magnet School for receiving authorization April 30 to offer the Diploma Programme of the International Baccalaureate. The school is one of only six in the state to reach that status, said Alison Andrews, the school system’s magnet supervisor.