LAFAYETTE — Heated debate over school facility needs and a $561 million bond proposition to rebuild and repair the district’s schools took over a forum organized Wednesday on the tax issue.
Board mismanagement of facilities and maintenance funding has placed the system in its current predicament, said Pat Briney, a local attorney who video recorded the forum.
During Briney’s questions about board spending to hire a firm to manage the construction bond program, Richard Thornton drew the conversation back to the tax issue.
“Does that make any difference? Is that going to fix the problem?” Thornton asked of Briney and referenced photographs of poor school conditions.
“Is it acceptable or not?” Thornton asked.
“Do we need new schools? Yes,” Briney said.
“Thank you,” Thornton said.
“Let me finish,” Briney said and called the current plan “skewed.”
“You can’t tell me that Lafayette High doesn’t need to be replaced,” Thornton said.
The $561 million bond proposition goes to voters on Oct. 22 and includes a 23-mills property tax dedicated to fund major construction and repairs and maintenance identified in the initial phase of the district’s facilities master plan. The proposition also includes a 2-mills property tax dedicated specifically for maintenance.
Fewer than 20 people attended the forum held at the South Regional Library and organized by School Board member Hunter Beasley. He has organized another forum planned for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at the same location.
Sarah Walker, chairman of the Community Coalition for Lafayette Schools, gave an overview of the system’s budget, facility needs and what the proposition will accomplish.
Walker said both millages are dedicated and will remain in separate accounts. Law does not allow the funds to go into the general fund or the existing maintenance fund, she added.
The district’s facilities master plan identifies $1.1 billion in needs. The proposition would fund the initial phase of a capital improvement plan to address priority projects identified by master planners.
Those projects include the replacement of seven schools: Northside and Lafayette High, L.J. Alleman Middle, Carencro Heights, Green T. Lindon, Katharine Drexel and J.W. Faulk Elementary schools; an auditorium for Comeaux High; classroom wing additions to replace portables at Alice Boucher, Broadmoor, Evangeline and Ridge Elementary schools and Scott Middle; and maintenance at all other schools.
The tax is “ill-timed,” said Joyce Linde, coordinator of the TEA Party of Lafayette. “The economy is not good. Retired people who are not on a pension are living on what they have saved and made and our income is going down. When we see this kind of abuse of our tax dollar, we get angry.”
“Wouldn’t a fair way be a sales tax?” asked Connie Boyer, who is affiliated with the TEA Party of Lafayette. She said she felt it was unfair that only property owners are bearing the cost.
For a resident with a home valued at $150,000, the property tax increase translates to a property tax increase of $187.50 a year, according to Walker’s presentation. She said Lafayette ranks 49th out of 60 school districts for its tax support of schools.
Using the $150,000 home valuation figure, Lafayette Parish residents currently pay $247.50 toward schools compared to $490.20 in property taxes for schools in St. Tammany Parish, Walker said.
Richard Cusimano, a member of the Community Coalition for Lafayette Schools, said he couldn’t dispute some of the TEA Party members comments.
“We have a bad economy. Issues have been neglected in the past. All that is true, but what are we going to do?” Cusimano said. “Are we going to continue to send our children to these slum-like dilapidated (schools)? (You’re) not voting against the School Board, you’re voting against our children.”
Before the start of the forum, Beasley clarified that he organized the event “not to promote the tax” but because “I wanted to get the facts out there.”
Toward the end of the nearly 90-minute forum, Beasley addressed the TEA Party members’ comments about prior board management of facilities and funding.
“We’ve been on the board for five years. We inherited a lot of baggage,” Beasley said. “What I’m seeing is … we’ll never get over this hurdle if we rely solely on the revenue that we have right now.”
Parent Ella Arsement asked Beasley what happens if the tax doesn’t pass.
“That’s something we need to discuss,” Beasley said.
The school system has created a webpage with information about the master plan and bond proposition at: http://lpssmasterplan.com.