The St. Tammany Parish School Board, meeting Dec. 6 as a Committee as a Whole, recommended issuing $175 million in capital improvement bonds as well as a 2-mill, 10-year property tax that would provide permanent funding for school resource officers and mental health professionals at every school.
The 2-mill tax is new, but because the school board plans to roll back its other millages by an equal amount next year, the new tax will not increase property owners’ tax bills.
If approved as expected at the board’s regular Dec. 13 meeting, and by the state bond commission, both issues will be on the May 4 election ballot.
The bond issue would be repaid with existing property taxes, so it would not require new taxes or an increase in existing millage rates. The bonds would be issued with a term not exceeding 20 years at an interest rate not exceeding 8 percent.
The bonds would fund a five-year capital improvement plan also up for adoption at the Dec. 13 meeting. The plan includes $25 million for technology and security improvements, and $150 million for facilities.
The technology improvements would provide $10 million for additional electronic devices, licenses and associated items for students and faculty, primarily in grades four through 12.
Security improvements would include $12 million for intrusion-detection devices consisting of access control for doors within schools and other facilities and camera and electronic lock systems at entry points, $2 million for upgraded and expanded camera systems, and $1 million for associated central computer room upgrades.
Facility improvements would include $150 million in new or renovated classrooms and other buildings at 16 schools. Permanent classroom wings would be built to replace modular or portable classroom buildings at 10 of the schools.
The new, 2-mill property tax would provide $4.1 million a year of permanent funding for resource officers and mental health practitioners in place at all public schools. Those positions were approved at the beginning of the current school year in response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February in which 17 students, faculty and staff members were killed.
For the current school year, the board paid for the positions with a one-time reallocation of funds from other budget categories, but members agreed with administrators that a permanent funding source was necessary going forward.
Bond attorney Grant Schleuter explained that even though the 2-mill security tax is new, it will not increase property tax bills because the School Board will reduce its bond millage rate by an equal amount, from 15.9 to 13.9 mills next year. The net effect keeps the school system’s total tax rate the same.