School District wants additional sales tax

Published 12:11 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

EDGARD — Public school leaders are asking consumers in St. John the Baptist Parish to fork over a little more each transaction for the benefit of the public school system.

With the recommendation of Superintendent Kevin George, St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members voted overwhelmingly this week to set a special election authorizing a .25 percent sales and use tax.

During their meeting Thursday night at West St. John Elementary School, Board members voted 10-1 (District 8’s Russ Wise dissented) in favor of bringing the measure before voters April 9.

The tax would be applicable to all the taxable items as provided by state law, going into action July 1 if passed by voters.

The School Board was informed it could start seeing revenue from the tax as early as late August if the measure is passed.

School officials have reported the system currently generates approximately $22 million from a 2.25 percent sales and use tax. The sales tax rate in St. John the Baptist Parish on consumer goods is 9 percent: the state’s 4 percent tax rate combined with a 5 percent local tax.

Wise said the School Board has a serious need for additional income, as it has been scraping the bottom of the barrel of available funding this fiscal year.

“We’re going to be in severe financial trouble, not this year, but next year without additional income,” he said.

However, Wise said School Board members could have taken a different approach to generating the revenue.

“It’s clearly understood by economists across the country that a sales tax is the most punishing tax of all on poor people, and we have more than our fair share of families living in poverty,” Wise said.

“It hits them the hardest because it takes up a larger portion of the limited money they get than anybody else. A property tax is a much safer and fairer way to go about raising money.”

Wise said a property tax can be deducted more easily from a property owner’s federal income tax than a sales tax can be from an economically disadvantaged resident.

The district levies 39.31 mills for property taxes that generate around $4.3 million a year, school officials previously reported.

Speaking in favor of the sales tax initiative, District 10’s the Rev. Rodney Nicholas said, “Those same poor people are the people that attend public schools.

“If we don’t pass this sales tax, we may be in jeopardy of losing all the advances we have made with school performance scores. We don’t want to go backwards, we want to go forwards, continue the good work this School District has been doing to become a B School District or even to become an A School District.”

Nicholas said the District needs the revenue to maintain local teachers, support staff and administrators to provide the best possible learning environment to local students.

“I think the poor people would benefit more from the social capital of improved schools, a better economy and more jobs for St. John Parish because of improved schools,” Nicholas said. “I think, in the long haul, the entire community will benefit from the sales tax.”