LAFAYETTE — Voters will decide in October whether to support a 25-mill property tax increase dedicated to chipping away at the more than $1 billion in facility needs in the school district.
The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 5-3 in a special meeting Wednesday to ask voters to support a 20-year, $561 million bond issue — with at least 23 mills levied in the first year to begin paying down the debt — and a separate 20-year, 2-mill tax specific to maintenance and repairs. No public comments were made in support or in opposition to the tax proposals, which will appear in the same proposition on the Oct. 22 ballot.
The board tabled a proposed separate 12-mills tax increase to create a universal Pre-K4 program in favor of focusing on facility needs.
The school system’s facilities master plan identifies more than $1 billion in repairs, maintenance and new construction needs. The $561 million bond package will be directed toward a capital improvement plan which denotes priority projects including new construction to replace entire schools and portable buildings with permanent classroom additions.
While the master plan was completed last year, the tax decision culminates a years-long discussion on addressing deferred maintenance and overgrown, outdated school facilities.
“We’ve been talking about facilities and the master plan for five years now,” said board member Rae Trahan. “Not to say that pre-K is not an important issue, but it just kind of sprang up. My thoughts are that we, as a board, should push and bring to the public a facilities master plan and its maintenance thereof.”
She questioned why universal pre-K was “pitched into the mix.”
Chief financial officer Billy Guidry said the pre-K tax proposal was created as an option for the board to consider after discussions in budget workshops. As board members sought to fill a $1.1 million deficit left with the loss of grant funding, the idea of expanding Pre-K4 classes was considered.
While some board members, including Trahan, were not opposed to exploring universal pre-K, they supported exploring the issue further.
Board member Greg Awbrey said there are too many questions about a preschool expansion like, such as transportation costs, how will the district define “universal,” and what if the number of needed classrooms exceeds available funding.
“I’d prefer to wait and study what a universal pre-K would be,” Awbrey said. “I don’t think we’re ready for the resolution right now. I would like to see the board go forward with a master plan.”
Board members Hunter Beasley, Rae Trahan, Mark Cockerham, Mark Allen Babineaux, and Greg Awbrey voted in favor of the proposition with board members Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb and Tommy Angelle voting against. Board member Tehmi Chassion abstained.
Existing property tax millages for Lafayette Parish residents range from 84.36 mills to 85.89 mills depending upon location.
Initially, the special board meeting was called for the final approval of a $395 million unified budget, which was adopted by the board in a unanimous vote following a public hearing in which no questions were raised by the public.
In the hearing, the board received information that it may need to adjust its tax revenues once property valuations are updated by the parish tax assessor’s office.
Those updates won’t be available until August and at that time, the board may need to revise the budget, Guidry said.