New Orleans voters will decide Oct. 14 whether to renew a trio of property taxes that provide nearly $40 million annually for local public schools.
Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr., the Orleans Parish School Board superintendent, said this week that the millages are a "crucial funding stream" for all public schools, including direct-run schools and charter schools, which are run by independent nonprofits. They represent about 7 percent of the money that goes to public education in New Orleans each year from all local, state and federal sources.
Voters will cast ballots on three separate renewals, each extending an existing property tax by 10 years, beginning in 2019.
The biggest, Proposition C, accounts for 7.27 mills, or $26.6 million a year. That money is dedicated to employee salaries, benefits and incentives.
Proposition A, a renewal of 1.55 mills, would provide $5.7 million a year for books, materials and supplies.
Proposition B, also at 1.55 mills or $5.7 million, would pay for initiatives aimed at improving discipline and cutting the dropout rate.
For taxpayers, the annual cost of approving all three renewals would be roughly $233 for a homestead-exempt property worth $300,000; $441 for a property worth $500,000; and $648 for a home worth $700,000.
Together, the millages bring in about $850 per student per year, or roughly 7 percent to 8 percent of a typical school's budget.
The money is distributed among the city's public schools on a per-student basis, regardless of whether they are governed by the School Board or the state-run Recovery School District.
Right now, the city has 83 public schools divided between the RSD and the OPSB, though all are scheduled to come back under the board's jurisdiction next year. All but six are charters.
Under a unification plan adopted by the OPSB in August 2016, the locally elected school board will once again have oversight over all New Orleans public schools. The charters will come under its aegis with their leadership and boards intact.
The OPSB hasn't had control of all the city's public schools since 2005, when Louisiana lawmakers handed over the majority of local campuses to the RSD. At that point, the OPSB was struggling financially and mired in controversy.
Under the charter system, each school receives 98 cents of every dollar allotted to it, with the central office holding back 2 percent to cover functions such as the unified enrollment system. But schools are still bound by the language of the ballot propositions, outlining in broad terms how the money from the three millages must be spent.
Henderson stressed that the renewals do not amount to a tax increase, and that a failed vote would likely mean painful budget cuts for schools.
A school of 600 students, for example, would lose roughly $500,000 out of its operating budget if the three propositions fail.
"It is reasonable to think schools would need to cut teachers, reading interventionists and other kinds of support staff," said Adam Hawf, an assistant superintendent. "And you would almost certainly see an increase in the ratio of students to teachers."
Early voting starts Sept. 30.