By a wide margin, New Orleans voters have approved a ballot proposition that will establish a revenue source for maintaining the city’s public school buildings.
The measure, which passed Saturday with 59 percent of the vote, gained broad support among city leaders despite bitter opposition from some community groups.
It will allow school officials to gradually redirect the revenue from an existing property tax toward facilities upkeep. Right now, the money is being used to pay off bond debt.
Without that permission from voters, the tax would have begun to shrink in 2016, disappearing altogether by 2021.
Instead, school officials will eventually have about $30 million a year to put toward maintenance, easing fears that the dozens of new and renovated school buildings that have gone up since Hurricane Katrina might fall into the kind of disrepair that prevailed among the city’s schools before the storm.
The plan for allocating that money is relatively novel, in keeping with New Orleans’ uniquely decentralized school system. Each school will get its own account to save money for future needs, in the meantime investing the money much as a public pension plan would.
That kind of approach mirrors the nature of the system as a whole, which is made up mainly of independent charter schools that manage day-to-day operations without interference from a central office.
The plan ran into concerted opposition from some officials and activists primarily because a portion of the money will flow to the Recovery School District, the state agency that took over most of the city’s schools after Katrina.
Both the RSD and the Orleans Parish School Board, which lost control of all but a handful of schools after the storm, will use a small portion of the tax dollars to set up facilities offices. Those offices will help administer a fund for emergency repairs and will make sure schools are following various regulations on how they can spend their own money.
Some local groups like Justice and Beyond, which view the charter movement with skepticism and would like to see all schools revert to local control, opposed the ballot measure on the grounds that only an elected school board should control how tax dollars are spent.
Three of the board’s seven members came out against even putting the ballot measure in front of voters.
But they found little support among the city’s other elected officials, even in parts of the city where anger at the state takeover of schools still runs high. Everyone from Mayor Mitch Landrieu to state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, backed the plan, as did the entire City Council and a wide array of other civic leaders.