The failure of a 10-year property tax on Saturday that was supposed to generate the funds needed to support a $5,000 pay hike for teachers in Pointe Coupee Parish has some school officials nervous the district will continue to shed quality educators to surrounding districts with higher pay.
“I am fearful. I campaigned for it; tried to get it to pass, but the people just wouldn’t work with us,” board member Brandon Bergeron said Monday.
The School Board’s 10-mill tax proposal, estimated to generate an additional $4.5 million annually, was overwhelmingly defeated by 57 percent of the 4,068 voters who cast ballots in Saturday’s election, according to results from the Secretary of State’s office.
The proposition, revenue from which the School Board also had plans to use for facility upgrades and $2,250 pay bumps for the district’s support staff, faced staunch opposition from community groups and local activists who have expressed distrust for the School Board.
But its failure wasn’t as bad as two previous new tax propositions Pointe Coupee officials presented to voters in 2005.
A 12-mill property tax proposal from former Sheriff Paul Raymond Smith was rebuffed by 71 percent of the voters in a January 2005 election, and a 9-mill school tax to support elementary and secondary schools was shot down by 73 percent that October.
Could that mean the parish’s negative temperament toward taxes is cooling?
Bergeron said he believes voters could be more receptive with a narrower tax proposal.
“I talked to people yesterday, and some said we maybe need to come back in another election and just address teacher pay raises,” Bergeron said. “It’s an issue we have to address soon. If not, we’ll continue to lose about 24 percent of our teachers each year.”
Beginning teachers in Pointe Coupee Parish with no experience and a bachelor’s degree make $38,392 a year, well below what other parishes pay their first-year teachers — $47,024 in Iberville, $42,733 in West Baton Rouge, $44,972 in West Feliciana and $44,500 in East Baton Rouge.
Only two school districts in Louisiana pay beginning teachers less than Pointe Coupee — St. Landry and Avoyelles parishes, where teachers earn $38,000 and $36,160 a year, respectively.
Schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine said he has received “numerous” emails from teachers who remain excited about his efforts to improve the parish’s public education system.
This week, the district will celebrate the launch of its French immersion program at one of its elementary schools and this fall, the district will open its science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy.
The district also has started a virtual school, he added.
“I don’t think teachers feel deflated; they’re disappointed naturally,” he said Monday. “But they understand the situation.”
In a prepared statement Lemoine posted on the district’s Facebook page Sunday afternoon, the superintendent promised not to let failure of the tax proposition hinder his efforts to offer competitive salaries to his teachers.
“I am excited about the future of this district, and I believe that when the voters see the changes that are forthcoming, they will become supporters of our public schools,” he wrote. “Our students are the reason we went to the people of this parish for support.”
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