School board will ask voters for financial help

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 11, 1999

By MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / Febuary 11, 1999

RESERVE – Less than a year after having a similar millage defeated by the voters of St. John Parish, the St. John Parish School Board is trying again.Thursday night the group adopted a resolution to put a 25-mill property tax increase in front of the public.

The election is scheduled for May 1 and will be broken into three propositions. The first would be a 10-year, 17.4 mill tax increase forgiving a $3,300 pay raise to teachers and a 6 percent increase in the salaries of support staff personnel. Proposition two is a 10-year, 3.67mill property tax increase for the alternative school. Proposition three isa 10-year, 3.93 mill increase to upgrade and maintain the technologyprogram. The tax will bring in over $3.5 million into the school system.In last year’s election, 53 percent of the voters said no to a 25-mill increase that was under one proposition.

The millage increase has the support of the St. John Association ofEducators, according to Herman Clayton, representing the association at the meeting.

“Whatever happens in terms of the millage, we will be at the forefront to get members out to educate the public why this millage is needed,” Clayton said.

East St. John High School principal Debra Schum said pay raises are neededbecause it is harder and harder to hire teachers with surrounding parishes paying more.

“I see it as critical,” Schum said. “We are increasingly having a constantstream of people retiring, but we are not getting a constant stream in. Theadministration has a package that answers the problems people had before. Last week a forum was held and there was nothing given as asolution other than what was already given. We have to do something nowto solve the problems because they are not ready to go away.”Nathan Stein, executive manager of finance, said several years ago St.

John ranked fifth in the state in teacher’s salaries. Now it ranks 29th. Henoted that St. Charles Parish is first in teachers’ salaries and St. JamesParish is fifth. As a result, the number of uncertified teachers in St. JohnParish has risen from one to 90.

Stein pointed out that a mil is worth $613,000 in St. Charles, $210,000 inSt. James and only $146,000 in St. John. He said the fact is that thepropositions, if passed, would cost homeowners $27.63 a year or 8 cents aday.

“If we don’t put at least a band-aid on this system right now, it will bleed to death,” Stein said of the need of the millage increase.

Board member Leroy Mitchell agreed.

“If we don’t educate the kids and keep certified teachers, that is bad for the system,” Mitchell said. “We will do everything we can in District I tosee this millage passes.” But former school board member Russ Wise said the millage is not warranted, saying there are other avenues the system can go down to get funding.

“I am not disagreeing that there are serious needs in this school system,” Wise said. “But this is a band-aid. We do not need a band-aid. It willsuffice until something else happens and it won’t be enough again. You willhave to come back and try to piece it together again. You need to exploreother options before you go to the people and say this is the only option we have.”Board member Clarence Triche agreed that all avenues had not been addressed. Triche proposed using a combined sales tax increase of 3/4 of acent plus a nine-mil increase.

Board member Dr. Gerald Keller disagreed, saying that with a sales tax,the school system would have to fight with the sheriff’s office and parish government for the revenues.

Superintendent Cleveland Farlough urged the board to pass the resolution and put the propositions on the ballot.

“The administration stands behind its proposal,” Farlough said. “Let thepublic decide.”The motion to pass the resolution passed with Mitchell, C.J. Watkins,James Madere, Matthew Ory, Patrick Sanders, Keller and Felix LeBouef voting for it and Dowie Gendron, John Crose, Richard DeLong and Triche voting against.

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