St. John Public Schools employees can expect raises; Voters narrowly pass .25% sales tax hike

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, December 14, 2016

LAPLACE — All St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools employees — teachers and support staff — are expected to see raises when the School District realizes a revenue boon from additional sales tax revenue.

“For support workers, there will be at least $1,000; for teachers it will be $1,300 and that will take up about half of the expected monies to come in,” Superintendent Kevin George said.

Public school leaders can make those plans following a vote of support Saturday that saw the School Board’s .25 percent sales tax increase proposition narrowly pass by a 4,594 (50.44 percent) to 4,513 (49.56 percent) vote margin.

According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, the total votes cast represent 30.1 percent voter turnout.

The election result and turnout are dramatic changes from eight months ago when a similar School Board sales tax proposal died through only 10 percent voter turnout. On April 9, St. John voters shot down the proposal 1,501 to 1,372.

George credited this month’s positive result to a concerted public relations effort with community members, business leaders and District personnel.

“I want to make sure to thank our union leaders and our District PTO organization,” George said. “They did a lot of ground work as far as making phone calls, text messages, letters and just conducting meetings for us. I think that really helped push us over the edge.”

The sales tax increase goes into effect July 1, 2017, bringing the total sales tax in St. John the Baptist Parish to 10.25 percent.

The additional .25 percent earned for the School District is expected to generate $2.4 million annually.

Half the revenue is earmarked for salaries and benefits for all permanent school employees and the other half for maintaining and repairing school buildings.

School District administrators have already signed a memorandum of understanding with the St. John Association of Educators ensuring raises will go to all employees.

The proposal drew opposition from the River Region Chamber of Commerce, which came out against the tax increase in November.

Chamber officials said business owners were concerned the raise would cause consumers to shop in other parishes, adding sales taxes are “regressive,” impacting low-income individuals disproportionately. However, Families and Neighbors of St. John, a group of 15 St. John Parish area business interests, publicly endorsed the tax measure last week.

“A group put an ad in L’OBSERVATEUR, and that was just amazing,” George said. “When I saw that, I was just so pleased that people were coming out for us to support this.”

According to George, approximately $1.2 million is going to be used for building maintenance projects. The superintendent said there are major issues with air conditioner units and roofs across the District.

“We already have a list that we prioritized and we will begin to put those things in place to get them fixed,” George said.

Veteran School Board member Russ Wise said the positive vote demonstrates a growing amount of support and confidence in public education in St. John Parish that has grown in recent years.

“In order to justify this tax, we’re going to have to continue that growth,” Wise said. “I’m really kind of proud at how our School District has done over the last five years in spite of the efforts of Bobby Jindal and others to strangle us financially. This will make a big difference as we go forward. We’re going to have to stand up and do it right to keep the confidence coming.”