Jefferson board puts school tax renewal on Oct. 19 ballot

After facing a crushing defeat at the polls earlier this month, the Jefferson Parish School board has decided to go back to voters on Oct. 19 and try again to get a critical 7-mill property tax renewed.

Officials were confident the millage, which generates about $23 million, would be renewed on May 4, as has happened historically.

But voters instead roundly rejected the tax, along with two other millage renewals for water and sewerage services in the parish.

Set to expire in 2014, the millage comes up for renewal every 10 years and accounts for about 30 percent of the total amount the district collects in property taxes.

Faced with the prospect of major budget cuts, the board voted 8-1 on Tuesday to go back to voters hat in hand, with only member Cedric Floyd opposed.

Floyd said Wednesday that he voted against putting the renewal on the fall ballot because he does not feel the board and its leadership are moving in the right direction and therefore are “not worthy” of the tax revenue.

“They are giving certain students and communities preferential treatment,” Floyd said, and “breaking federal and state law.”

Board members debated why voters rejected the tax renewal, with some suggesting it was because the ballot initiative lacked union support. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board voted to reject a proposed collective bargaining agreement with the union, which teachers have been without for about a year.

Board member Mark Morgan said that every other time a school district millage has been put to a public vote the union had a contract with the board, and its members played a key role in outreach and ensuring it passed.

But Superintendent James Meza said that he believes the “no” vote was tied to the anti-tax sentiment brought on by the Crescent City Connection toll vote. Board members Larry Dale and Mike Delesdernier also pointed to a letter sent to voters by Parish Assessor Thomas Capella that warned voters of the three tax renewals, saying they would raise the amount residents pay in taxes. While the school district measure was not one of the renewals cited by Capella, Meza called the circumstances surrounding the election a “perfect storm.”

Dale and Delesdernier said whatever the reason, the board should have done a better job communicating the importance of the millage to voters.

“We’ll have the business community’s support next time,” said Meza, who promised to outline in detail the impact of losing the tax revenue if the renewal is defeated in October.

Meza said the community — even those with children in private schools — realize that without a quality public school system, “You’re not going to have quality of life.”

The 7-mill renewal received 28,405 “yes” votes, or 48 percent, and 31,008 “no” votes, or 52 percent.