Lafayette Parish voters will decide April 29 whether to approve a 10-year, half-penny sales tax to support a nearly $200 million program to upgrade campuses with the goal of eliminating temporary classrooms in the public school system.
The Lafayette Parish School Board on Wednesday voted unanimously to put the tax proposal on the ballot this spring.
“I really think this offers a chance for Lafayette Parish to step forward in regards to our school facilities,” said board member Justin Centanni.
The board also approved a list of tax-funded projects at 12 schools totaling $195 million to expand permanent space to accommodate students now in temporary classrooms.
“The idea behind this tax … is that we are making plans to eliminate roughly 248 temporary classrooms on 12 campuses,” said Superintendent Donald Aguillard.
The school system has more than 400 temporary classrooms, a number that has steadily grown over the decades as student enrollment has pushed far above the design capacity of schools.
For example, Lafayette High School, designed for 1,481 students, now has an enrollment of 2,344, according to figures from the School Board.
If the proposed sales tax passes, more than 20 percent of the $195 million in upgrades would be at Lafayette High, where 31 temporary classrooms have been identified for elimination.
The other schools on the list are Prairie Elementary, Carencro Heights, Evangeline Elementary, Broadmoor Elementary, Boucher Elementary, Plantation Elementary, Ridge Elementary, Woodvale Elementary, Duson Elementary, Leo Judice Elementary and Ossun Elementary.
“The schools that made that list are the schools that have the largest number of temporary buildings,” Aguillard said.
He said the proposed upgrades would eliminate 60 percent of the temporary buildings in the school district.
The tax would generate just under $24 million a year, according to figures from the School Board.
In addition to the $195 million in projects, about $3 million would be set aside each year for maintenance.
Lafayette Parish voters shot down a more ambitious property tax proposal to improve school facilities about six years ago.
School officials have talked for years about a major initiative to improve school campuses and hired a consulting firm in 2009 to craft a comprehensive facilities strategy.
The consultants returned with a $1 billion master plan.
The board floated a 25-mill property tax in 2011 to fund $561 million in school improvements.
Voters defeated it soundly, with 69 percent casting ballots against the tax measure.
The board had planned to return to voters last year with another property tax proposal but pulled it after concerns were raised about pushing a tax increase amid a weak oil economy.
The proposal the board approved Wednesday is scaled down considerably from a property tax discussed earlier this year that would have funded more than $500 million in improvements.
That figure has gradually come down as the board debated various tax scenarios in recent weeks.