Public schools seek new sales tax

Published 12:12 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

RESERVE — No other school system is doing more with less than St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools, Superintendent Kevin George said.

“I say this because 81 percent of our kids come from poverty,” George said. “No other school system with a higher poverty rate performs better than we do. That means we are doing the best job with the kids with the greatest needs.”

George is joining with other School District administrators and School Board members in praising the District’s performance — a key selling point in advance of April 9’s election, when St. John voters will be asked to approve a new .25 percent sales tax to benefit the School District.

The District’s rating, announced late in 2015, signaled the first time St. John earned the B distinction, scoring an 85.2 as its 2015 District Performance Score.

It is an improvement over the previous year’s score of 83.1, a C.

The Louisiana Department of Education lists 81.93 percent of students in St. John Parish Public Schools as “economically disadvantaged.” No other listed school district with at least 80 percent of the student body categorized as economically disadvantaged performed better, and only one (Jefferson Parish) matched St. John with a B rating.

“That shows we are good stewards of the District’s money, but also doing a wonderful job that no one else in this entire state can match,” George said, adding voters should continue to invest in the parish’s public schools.

“We are putting out a great product. We are not an inept school system asking for more money and saying open up your wallets to us. The numbers speak for themselves when you talk about student achievement.”

The tax

The St. John Parish School Board is asking voters to approve a .25 percent sales tax (25 cents for every $100 spent) that would be applied to retail sales, and the use, lease, rental, consumption and storage for use or consumption of tangible personal property on sales of services in St. John Parish.

If passed, it is expected to generate $2.4 million a year.

Revenue from the tax is earmarked for school security, alternative programs, guidance work at the elementary schools, extra transportation and salaries and benefits.

Next month’s tax election is April 9, and early voting runs from March 26 through April 2, not including March 27.

If approved, the tax would go into action July 1. The School Board could start seeing revenue from the tax as early as late August.

District 11 School Board Member Clarence Triche said the state has not increased the School District’s funding through the Minimum Foundation Program — a formula Louisiana adopts to allocate funds to school districts on a per-pupil basis — that was previously promised.

“It’s less money, and they want us to do a better job,” Triche said.

“At one time, we had approximately $13 million in escrow that we saved by being very efficient. In order not to have any layoffs in the last four years or so, we have used up all of that money.”

Triche said the District has operated steadily the last two years using money from a $2.6 million BP oil spill settlement announced in August and a multi-million dollar sales tax dispute agreement reached in May with Marathon Petroleum.

“A lot of people say look at the industry we have in St. John Parish,” Triche said. “Marathon comes on board in 2020, so we’re really not getting any property tax from them. They bring kids for us to teach, but we get no money.”

As a veteran of the School Board for 28 years with 24 years of classroom experience, Triche is asking voters to support the work of the School District, from the superintendent on down, warning without the sale tax, the District’s teacher-to-student ratio could increase through staff reductions.

“If you are going to reduce the number of teachers you have in the school system and bring another five or six students in the classroom per class, you cannot spend the time with each child that is really necessary for them to accomplish anything,” Triche said.


Superintendent Kevin George said the School District has spent approximately $15 million repairing buildings and building new buildings following Hurricane Isaac in 2012 that has not been reimbursed by FEMA.

The School District’s increased retirement expenditures, the fire at East St. John Elementary and the loss of students and funding through Louisiana’s voucher system have contributed to the District’s financial strain, George said.

District administrators also reported 20 school buses were used to rescue stranded residents after Hurricane Isaac and $1.5 million is needed to replace them.

The School District is not eligible for insurance reimbursement because the buses were knowingly driven into floodwaters.

District administrators also said they have lost $3 million in state money because of student loss and $2.5 million in property tax revenue in recent years due to employer exodus.

Because of School Board decisions with budgeting and expenditures with an eye toward being good stewards of the people’s money, George does not anticipate any major cuts next fiscal year should voters deny the tax.

Come 2017-18, some “tough decisions” would have to be made.

“There are a lot of things on the table, and the Board has to decide from a menu of options,” George said. “I don’t want to go out there and say, ‘This is what will be cut.’

“Hopefully, the voters will say, ‘You will not have to decide because we believe in our children and we’re going to invest in our children.’ Just a few short years ago, this school system was D-rated, D as in dog. Right now, we are a B-rated School System.”

School officials have reported the system generates approximately $22 million from a current 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.

The district also levies 39.31 mills for property taxes that generate around $4.3 million a year.