After Livingston Parish voters rejected a proposed 1-cent sales tax that would have paid for raises for teachers and other school employees, the district superintendent called for healing from what has often been a divisive campaign cycle.
The proposed tax would have paid for a 10% pay raise for all employees, with a minimum increase of $2,500. Voters rejected the proposal by a margin of 54% to 46%, according to Saturday's complete but unofficial results; 17,699 people voted, for a turnout of about 20.5%.
Livingston Parish Schools Superintendent Alan "Joe" Murphy said in a statement that the last few months have been challenging for the community as residents discussed potentially adding a new sales tax.
"We know that low pay for Livingston Parish Public School employees will continue to present challenges for our system, but that our leaders will do all they can to manage available funds to give our schools the resources and personnel they need to provide our children with a quality education," he wrote.
Murphy, along with other school district leaders, said the proposed tax was necessary to make the district's pay more competitive with other nearby school systems. Difficulty hiring quality teachers contributed to the district falling out of the state's top 10 highest-rated districts for academic performance last year, they argued.
They have also blamed uncompetitive pay for serious shortages of support staff, particularly in transportation. A dearth of school bus drivers was so severe last year that principals and other employees learned how to drive buses to pick up missing routes.
Critics of the tax proposal have argued that the parish School Board and superintendent should cut spending elsewhere in the budget to find money for the raises instead of raising taxes. They ultimately blamed Murphy and the board for allegedly mismanaging the funds they already had and asking voters to pick up the slack.
Opponents of the tax proposal made their views known on social media and with yard signs, even as the school district and its employees generally supported the measure.
"It is my hope that our parish can heal from any division that may have occurred during this election, and that other options to improve the wages of our school professionals may present themselves in the near future," Murphy said.
What those other options or next steps may be remain to be seen. Late last year, the district convened the Livingston Parish Educational Facilities Improvement District Board of Directors specifically to address the salary issue. That board decided to ask voters for a new tax, which failed. It was not immediately clear what action the board could take when they convene again.
Through the school district spokesperson, Murphy declined an interview to expand on his statement.