If there is one thing that New Orleans teachers and students got used to before 2005, it was the dismal condition of schools. Roofs leaked, walls molded, pipes were broken — the catalog of facility disrepair was an outward and visible sign of the disarray of the old Orleans Parish School Board.
After the disastrous storms of 2005 and the ensuing levee breaches, there was at least the chance for a fresh start, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. With money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, New Orleans is on its way to a dramatic turnaround educationally — not just in the innovations in classrooms that have been widely admired around the country, but also in school facilities.
The 2011 School Facilities Master plan is in the process of building 35 entirely new schools, renovating 18 and refurbishing 27 more. That’s a huge plus for the community, whether the schools are under the jurisdiction of the OPSB or charters.
What is needed, though, is foresighted provision for maintenance of the new facilities. A plan was put together under legislation from Rep. Walt Leger, of New Orleans; Act 543 passed unanimously by the Legislature, and it now goes to the public in the form of a tax proposition on the Dec. 6 ballot.
Property taxes would not increase, but an expiring 4.9 mills now used for paying off school bonds would be extended for 10 years to pay for major repairs to school facilities. As the bonds are paid off, the tax proceeds — eventually about $15 million per year — are dedicated to a facilities fund for each school.
Protections will be put in place to ensure that the money is only spent on major repairs in accord with a facility plan for each site. Oversight will be provided by either the Orleans board or the Recovery School District in the case of charter schools.
The FEMA contribution to rebuilding schools was one-time money. Passage of this tax would not be the total solution to future facility needs but would set up a substantial fund toward repairs that we know will be needed.
We agree with the Bureau of Governmental Research: “With new and renovated schools coming online, the need for regular repair and replacement of New Orleans’ school facilities is growing once again. The tax proposition would go a long way toward avoiding past practices of neglect and ensuring that school buildings are preserved for generations of students to come.”
We urge New Orleans voters to approve this proposal.