Lafayette School Board adopts resolution on old tax but is still waiting to discuss possible new tax _lowres

Advocate Photo by Brad Kemp Lafayette Parish School Board holds special meeting Monday Oct. 26, 2015 at the school board offices in Lafayette, La.. The special meeting was to to approve two resolutions one naming special counsel and another to give public notice that they’ll begin levying an existing tax.

The Lafayette Parish School Board met Monday — not to discuss potential new taxes to pay for new schools — but to approve a resolution to inform residents that a tax already on the books will continue to be collected.

“This is a procedural issue,” Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry explained before the board approved the resolution. While voters approved the renewal of the existing 16.7 mills in November 2012, a law passed in 2013 requires public bodies to give public notice when a tax is about to be levied. Voters approved the renewal of the tax in 2012 — two years ahead of its 2014 expiration, Guidry said. The tax funds operational expenses for the school system.

Come Nov. 21, voters will decide on the renewal of a separate, also existing property tax. That one is 7.27 mills and also funds school system operations, including utilities, salaries and benefits, to the tune of about $13 million a year. The 7.27 mills has been on the tax rolls for more than 40 years, and without it, the School Board’s budget would be more cash-strapped than it already is, school officials have said.

The timing of the tax renewal election comes as the School Board will soon face the inevitable discussion about how to raise revenue to support new schools and school expansion and repairs needed to keep up with growth, particularly in the southern part of the parish.

In addition to the new high school the district plans to build on property it owns in Youngsville, consultants also propose that at least one additional elementary and middle school are needed to keep pace with population spurts in the southern part of the parish. Replacement facilities for Drexel Elementary in Broussard and Lafayette High have also been proposed, as well as expansions of classroom wings to help balance out enrollment in the school system.

The board on Oct. 14 gave notice it may consider a resolution that calls for an election for a potential tax or bond issue. But for now, it’s shied away from discussions about what the resolution will say or the best avenue to raise new revenue. Those discussions may not come until after the Nov. 21 election on the existing tax renewal. Superintendent Donald Aguillard said last week tentative dates to discuss the resolution may be scheduled either Nov. 23 or Nov. 24 — days before Thanksgiving and the week before the board’s Dec. 2 meeting.

Also on Monday, the board named Tonya Smith as its special counsel to handle litigation on workers’ compensation and liability claims. Smith was previously with the board’s current special counsel, the law firm Borne, Wilkes, Smith and Rabalais. Smith left the firm to start her own practice. Because she’s familiar with the board’s caseload, she was logical choice for the job, Aguillard said. The board set Smith’s maximum fee at $35,000 a month, which Guidry said last week is expected to save the school system $80,000 a year in legal fees because it spends about $500,000 a year in special counsel costs related to workers’ compensation and liability claims.

Smith told the board Monday that the cap could be revisited, pending the school system’s claims, which it is working to lower through training and other preventative efforts.

Both resolutions were approved unanimously by board members present: Elroy Broussard, Justin Centanni, Britt Latiolais, Dawn Morris, Erick Knezek, Mary Morrison and Jeremy Hidalgo. Board members Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion were absent.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.