Zachary school board members unanimously agreed Thursday to place a sales tax proposition on the March 28 ballot.
The board is asking voters to consider a one-cent sales tax increase for the school district.
East Baton Rouge Parish, Baker and Zachary schools receive two cents in sales tax while neighboring Central and West Feliciana schools receive two and a half cents and three cents respectively, Superintendent Scott Devillier said at the Nov. 13 work session.
“We have been in ongoing discussions regarding the district budget and finances for the past two years and held a number of town hall meetings over the past month to give the community information on the school system’s programs, revenues and expenditures,” Devillier said.
Devillier said he wants voters to be informed whether they vote yes or vote no at the polls.
“From now until then, it’s our job to educate them, give them the facts,” Devillier said.
During four town hall meetings district officials held in October, the consistent academic success of the school system and programs they’d like to continue to fund were highlighted: Freshman Academy, Pre-Kindergarten program, career and technical education, advanced course offerings, integration of technology, remediation, ACT preparation opportunities, diverse athletic offerings, and professional development opportunities for teachers.
Since 2009, the Zachary school district has seen increases totaling $4 million in retirement costs and $1 million in health benefits, district officials said.
“We have made plenty of reductions in expenditures and have been streamlining the budget mainly through attrition,” Devillier added.
During the work session prior to the board meeting, Devillier said, “What separates Zachary from everyone else is the community support, everyone working together as well as the opportunities the district provides the students each and every day. I believe it’s the programs we offer outside of math, science and English/language arts that make our students so successful. We’re at a crossroads right now, and my recommendation is that you allow the people in this community to make that decision.”
“We’ve been looking at this thing for well over a year. We’ve been working on the budget, budget issues and how we’re going to straighten this out,” board member Scott Swilley said. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments, and to me, it’s pretty cut and dry. We’re not congressmen and we’re not mandating anything on the public, all we’re doing is making a decision to let the people decide if they want to continue to support the school district.”
A roll call vote on three actions was taken: a motion to put the sales tax on the ballot; a motion on the amount of the sales tax; and a motion to adopt a resolution supporting the sales tax proposition. Board members were unanimous on all three motions.
The one-cent sales tax would garner about $4.5 million annually, district officials have said.
Other options available to the board, that would garner less in sales tax returns, were 1? 3, 1/2 and 1/4 of a cent.
Michael Schexnayder, of Postlethwaite & Netterville, delivered the district’s annual audit report for the 2013-14 school year.
Schexnayder said the Zachary Community School District received the highest rating of an Unqualified Opinion with respect to the audit.
“You are facing the same financial challenges that other districts are facing and retirement costs are having the biggest impact upon the district’s budget,” Schexnayder said.