LAFAYETTE – The Lafayette Parish School Board has repair work to do before it goes back to voters with another tax proposal to fund major construction and repairs in the district, board members said Wednesday.
A $561 million bond proposition that would have rebuilt seven schools, added classrooms at five schools and repairs at other schools failed Oct. 22, capturing only about 31 percent of the vote.
A separate 2-mill property tax increase dedicated to maintenance was part of the proposition and it also failed.
“There’s a lot of distrust right now,” said Tehmi Chassion. “I’d encourage (the) board and central office before we even look at other taxes, analyze why (it) got voted down.”
The tax proposition was not on Wednesday’s agenda, but an informational report related to upcoming election dates was presented to the board. Some board members questioned why the information was being presented.
“I’ve gotten a lot of emails based on this agenda item that this was a slap in the face of voters,” Chassion said.
Billy Guidry, district chief financial officer, said the information was being presented because of upcoming deadlines if the board was interested in a spring ballot.
“Staff did not want to eliminate options by withholding presenting information,” Guidry said.
Discussion of an upcoming election is a “waste of time,” said Kermit Bouillion, who along with Shelton Cobb and Tommy Angelle voted June 29 against bringing the proposition to voters in the first place. Chassion abstained.
“Voters spoke loud and clear,” said Bouillion. “Sixty-nine percent of voters said, ‘No,’ and I would like to know what part of ‘No’ does this board not understand.”
Board member Mark Cockerham said he would oppose going back to voters any time soon.
The bond issue and separate 2-mill tax were recommended by a citizens’ oversight committee of 21 people representing civic, business and parent groups organized specifically to oversee the implementation of the master plan.
Board member Greg Awbrey stood by the board’s decision to place the issue on the ballot.
“I think we did the right thing,” Awbrey said. “I was elected to find a solution to a problem. We found a solution through the work of a lot of community members.”
The Tea Party of Lafayette organized opposition to the tax, and its membership questioned the equity of a property tax and the financial hardship on home and business owners. Its membership also expressed mistrust with prior board management of facilities.
The board isn’t to blame for the state of facilities; that damage was done over decades, Awbrey said.
The need still exists for facility improvements and the board will have to seek help from the community again, Awbrey said, and questioned whether the board should consider a different approach.
Chassion said he’s heard from community members who have suggested the board wait to present another tax until it appoints a new superintendent. They also want to see an educational plan and performance improvement within the system, Chassion said.
Sally Donlon, of the League of Women Voters of Lafayette, which supported the proposition, asked the board not to abandon it.
She said she gave several community presentations in support of the tax and encountered people who were misinformed — which indicated that people were not necessarily against the tax, but didn’t understand the proposition.
“My personal opinion is rather than go back in a hole … now is the time to put out a full court press public information campaign about the situation and what really exists,” Donlon said.
Board member Hunter Beasley again requested a “contingency plan” for facilities, which he had requested before the tax failed.
Lawrence Lilly, deputy superintendent of human resources and operations, said he’ll present the board with information on available funds and projects that have been addressed with a federal stimulus construction bond program.