The Lafayette Parish School Board could begin discussions next month on a tax proposal to pay for facility upgrades when the board receives an updated report on which of its schools are most in need of repairs.
Last week, the board’s Finance Committee approved staff’s recommendation that the board should consider asking the community to support a tax as a way to help fund school construction and improvements.
That recommendation goes to the full board Wednesday as an introduction item, so full discussion of the issue likely won’t happen until the board’s first meeting next month on Oct. 7, when the item appears on the action agenda.
Also in October, consultants with CSRS Inc. are expected to deliver an updated facilities master plan, along with a prioritized list of school projects.
Recently, the School Board approved a $126 million bond sale that will enable the construction of a new high school and other school projects — such as a replacement building for Drexel Elementary and classroom wings at Milton Elementary, Milton Middle and Plantation Elementary to handle growth in the southern part of the parish.
Even with those projects, the school system has an estimated $700 million in facility needs, school system Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry told the Finance Committee last week.
Guidry said in an interview Thursday that staff will offer the board possible scenarios to fund other major school projects through a new property tax or a half-cent sales tax increase.
Guidry said staff doesn’t plan to make a specific recommendation on which tax initiative the board should adopt. If the board agrees next month to seek a tax initiative, it could place the proposition on the spring ballot. The first election in 2016 is March 5.
Last week, Guidry told the Finance Committee the board could build a strong capital projects program by selling bonds — a successful practice in neighboring parishes. Guidry reminded committee members that the School Board previously had a property tax that was never renewed when the last debt for the construction of new schools was paid off.
At the time, the then-board had decided to sell sales tax bonds because of healthy sales tax revenues, Guidry said.
“But in a short period of time, those sales tax revenues became needed to operate the district on a day-to-day basis. By the time we came to that realization, the millage had dropped off,” Guidry said.
In Iberia Parish, voters have supported bond packages for school projects through the renewal of a property tax that has funded millions in school construction, repairs, and technology and security upgrades.
If the voters in Lafayette were to pass a new property tax, the “key would be to maintain it, and your capital program could go on year after year after year,” Guidry said.
The board hasn’t brought a new tax proposal to voters since fall 2011, when a 25-mill property tax to fund $561 million in school projects and maintenance was defeated, receiving support from only 31 percent of the votes cast.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.