All three parts of a one-cent sales tax renewal for the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system were approved by wide margins in Saturday’s election, preserving nearly a billion dollars in public education funding over the next decade.
Amid low turnout, the propositions were approved by margins ranging from 64 to 70 percent, according to complete but unofficial results.
“I’m really happy for the parents, students and employees of the system who have worked so hard,” said Superintendent Warren Drake after the results were in. “It’s important to have the trust of the public."
The parish school system, the second largest in Louisiana, sought a show of support from parish voters so it could launch a new round of school construction and repair projects over the next decade.
“It’s going to change the way EBR schools look and feel,” Drake said.
At the same time, voters were asked to maintain the pay of the system’s 5,500-plus employees and to continue efforts to reduce truancy and provide alternative schools for students with academic and disciplinary problems.
The 1-cent sales tax, first approved in 1998, was renewed by wide margins in 2003 and 2008. Saturday’s vote renews the tax for 10 more years, from 2019 to 2029. In the process, the sales tax is expected generate an estimated $937 million for public education, or about $93 million a year. Almost 236,000 people living in East Baton Rouge Parish, except those in Baker, Central and Zachary, were eligible to vote Saturday.
As election day approached, opposition emerged from diverse quarters, casting doubt on whether the tax would be renewed again in whole or in part.
Here are how the three propositions fared Saturday, with all 279 precincts reporting:
- Proposition 1, a 0.51-cent tax for school construction, repairs and improving technology: 17,227 yes votes, or 64 percent; 9,515 no votes, or 36 percent.
- Proposition 2, a 0.08-cent tax for improving school discipline, curbing truancy and offering alternative education: 17,615 yes votes, or 66 percent; 9,071 no votes, or 34 percent.
- Proposition 3, 0.41-cent tax for supplementing employee salary and benefits: 18,684 yes votes, or 70 percent; 7,907 no votes, or 30 percent.
The turnout was about 11 percent. When it was last renewed in 2008, turnout was about 20 percent.
The three propositions would generate $477 million, $75 million and $384 million, respectively, over the 10-year lifespans of the renewed taxes.
About $362 million of the money raised by Proposition 1 would pay for 22 “named” projects. These include rebuilding six schools and constructing up to three more new schools at unspecified locations somewhere in south Baton Rouge.
In recent weeks, Superintendent Drake and top staff kept up a heavy pace of speaking engagements to make the case for renewing all three propositions. They were joined by local teacher unions and other school organizations connected with the school system.
The fate of Proposition 3 hung especially heavy for school employees. Just full-time teachers would suffer pay cuts ranging from $3,675 to $36,536 a year if that proposition failed to be renewed.
Alumni associations of Capitol, Glen Oaks, McKinley high schools in Baton Rouge, unhappy that the money for those schools fell short of meeting their needs, joined forces to oppose Proposition 1.
Meanwhile, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber urged voters to reject Proposition 2, but backed the other two propositions.
Meanwhile, a conservative group called Keep Louisiana Working that would not disclose its donors sent out mailers and paid for robocalls across the parish that urged voters to reject all three propositions. The group, which reported spending at least $36,000, argued in its communications that the school system is broken and shouldn’t be entrusted with more money.
Support for the public school system has also been weakened in recent years by attacks from the St. George incorporation movement, which seeks to form a public school district in southeast Baton Rouge if it’s first successful in creating a city.
But a St. George spokesman told The Advocate the organization is not taking a position on whether or not to renew the 1-cent sales tax.