Following the state’s release of its performance scores for school districts, Zachary Superintendent Scott Devillier told parents and residents at an Oct. 22 community meeting that the district should be proud.
“We have cause to celebrate again,” Deviller said at Rollins Place Elementary during the second of four meetings hosted by the school district to inform parents and residents about the district’s finances.
“Zachary schools are No. 1 for the 10th year in a row, but that just doesn’t happen. It takes a lot of hard work from students, teachers, parents and community members,” Devillier said. “We’re going to continue to put out a good product.”
As the state’s top-scoring district, Zachary’s performance score was 114.4, up from 109.1 in 2013. All Zachary schools, except the prekindergarten program, which isn’t considered, earned an A grade.
The Department of Education released school performance scores Oct. 21 for the 2013-14 school year.
“I spoke with a neighboring superintendent just this morning whose district has been at the top but is now near the bottom due to cuts. I don’t want us to have to do that,” Devillier said.
The School Board voted earlier in the month to give notice of consideration for a proposal authorizing a sales and use tax, something the district says it may have to do rather than cut programs from schools.
School Board members will have to decide at a Nov. 13 meeting whether to place the tax proposition on the ballot in March.
In Zachary, a 2-cent sales and use tax is collected for schools.
The School Board can ask for up to one additional cent.
Officials said they do have options of asking for less.
Officials said additional taxes would collect an estimated:
One-fourth-cent increase: $1.12 million
Half-cent increase: $2.25 million
Three-fourth-cent increase: $3.37 million
1-cent increase: $4.5 million.
“West Feliciana collects 3 cents, and Central collects 2½ cents,” Devillier said. “East Baton Rouge and Baker schools collect 2 cents, the same as us. I think you’re getting a pretty good product for the price.” The product, Devillier said, are the district’s school buildings.
“One of the reasons we split from East Baton Rouge was because our buildings were so deplorable and we needed new ones,” Devillier explained. “The cost of our buildings are what the property taxes fund.”
Zachary residents pay a constitutional 5 mills for general operations; 38.2 mills, renewable every 1½ years; and 36 mills for bond services debt that funds new school buildings at a cost of about $8 million annually, said Devillier, who added that the buildings were constructed to last 70 to 80 years.
“That money goes straight to repaying those bonds that were sold for $129 million,” Devillier said.
Following a short video about maintaining the district’s model of excellence, officials said that throughout the past 10 years, the Zachary school district has been committed to minimizing the effects of state cuts while maintaining high standards within the classrooms and with its teachers.
The presentation stated that assistance from federal stimulus programs and an expansion at Georgia Pacific in Port Hudson provided additional sales tax revenues that provided relief during lean times.
Another presentation showed the district’s revenue gains and losses from 2003 to present, highlighting the unfunded mandates; state-level cuts; Minimum Foundation Program supplements and freezes; health care and insurance costs; retirement contribution increases; and teacher salary mandates.
“Not that the teachers don’t deserve it; they do, every cent, but that doesn’t help the budget,” Devillier said about teachers’ pay. “But how do you cut something that is part of what has made this district a model of excellence for a decade?”
Following Devillier’s presentation, Michelle Clayton, head of academics, said some of the programs that make Zachary schools unique include ancillary elementary art, music and language programs, dual-enrollment courses, career and technical opportunities, expanded course offerings, diverse athletic programs, remediation and summer school programs, professional development opportunities as well as appropriate class sizes, freshman academy training, teaming in middle school and the commitment to the prekindergarten program, among others.
“The district needs the community’s support to maintain its model of excellence,” Clayton said before answering questions texted from the audience.
One text questioned what the district would do if the tax increase failed.
“All programs are important to someone’s child, so my unofficial answer is we don’t,” Clayton said. “How do we say this program is being cut for your child, but that program isn’t for those children? We understand people have choices where to take their kids to school, but we want Zachary to be the very best choice for parents.”
Another text questioned the large amount of student fundraising.
“We’re looking at that, both Scott and I, and you can expect to see some changes. I can relate to this question as much as anyone,” Clayton said. “There are seven kids in the Clayton household, so this issue affects me, too.”
Deviller said the board’s financial records are open for public view.
“Yes, district financial records are available for anyone who would like to view them, just call my office and we’ll set it up,” Deviller said. “We just don’t want you voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ unless you know what you’re being asked to vote for. That’s why these meetings were held, so you can make an informed decision.”