Ex-Jefferson School Board aide files EEOC complaint against former board president _lowres

Cedric Floyd

The Jefferson Parish School Board likely will ask parish voters for more money twice during this school year — once for its employees and once for buildings.

Those proposals will ask the voters to approve new property taxes in order to fund two areas most officials agree are sorely needed in the parish's public school system: increased pay for teachers and other employees and new facilities to accommodate new technology and a growing enrollment. 

The question of new facilities is being studied by an outside consultant and likely won't go before voters until the spring at the earliest. As yet, there is no specific proposal for a possible millage, nor has it been determined exactly what projects would get funded.

The pay raise issue, on the other hand, will arrive in the form of an 8.45-mill property tax that voters will approve or reject Nov. 18.

The 8.45-mill tax would increase the millage collected by the school system by more than a third, providing about $30.3 million a year in new funds dedicated to teacher and employee pay raises.

The measure was proposed to the School Board by member Cedric Floyd, a frequently divisive figure who argued that Jefferson Parish schools' millage rates and teacher pay are below those of eight surrounding parishes.

Jefferson Parish schools collect 22.91 mills in property taxes every year, of which 9 mills, or about $32 million, are dedicated to teacher pay — covering about 14 percent of the system's total payroll of $231 million.

Floyd said the system had about 350 teacher vacancies this year and the millage increase would help reduce that number. 

Under the proposed plan, teachers would get a $4,000 across-the-board raise. Support employees and administrators, all the way up to Superintendent Isaac Joseph, also would get more money. Some would get a flat $3,000 raise, others a 10 percent increase. 

The School Board, by a 7-1 vote at its Aug. 8 meeting, approved putting the tax before voters, even though some members worry that asking for two new taxes so close together will diminish both proposals' chance of success.

"I feel like it's going to sabotage our property tax election dedicated to facilities," said Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, the lone board member to vote against putting the pay-raise millage before voters. "I would have liked to see this piggyback onto that or else as two proposals at the same time."

Denapolis-Bosarge said while the Jefferson system's millage may be low compared with nearby parishes, it gets a higher proportion of its revenue from sales taxes — 31 percent — than most other large parishes' school systems do.

She also bemoaned the limited time the board was given to digest the proposal. Floyd told his colleagues he was proposing 8.45 mills only a couple of hours before the meeting, leaving other members inadequate time to study the plan, Denapolis-Bosarge said. 

"I could not fathom why he would not have given members of the School Board time to investigate the millage amounts," she said.

Nevertheless, the only thing that kept Denapolis-Bosarge from voting to put the measure in front of voters was the fact that she had already gone on record opposing a millage request strictly for pay raises.

That feeling — of not wanting to be seen as voting against giving voters a chance to approve teacher and employee raises — also likely played into other board members' votes.

"I don't think teachers get paid enough," said Mark Morgan, a board member who said before the meeting that he was undecided on the proposal. "It's very difficult for a board member to not give the public an opportunity to vote on teacher raises."

But, like Denapolis-Bosarge, he said putting the tax on the November ballot likely harms the chances of a facilities millage passing next spring. 

"Is this the right timing? I am not sure," he said.

The timing issue indicates the deep divisions that exist on the board, many of them swirling around Floyd, a longtime member who is often aggressive in pursuing his agenda.

Some school system officials have argued that Floyd was a proponent of facility upgrades until the board brought in an independent third party to evaluate where they should go.

Then, their argument goes, Floyd decided to back a plan to put a pay raise millage on the ballot first because he suspects that voters won't approve two new millages within a year. 

"The problem we are having, and it's unfortunate, is that Cedric has a plan and everybody else has a plan," Morgan said. "A lot of people believe that's why he picked up and ran with this teacher plan — because it was a way to kill everybody else's plan."

Floyd denied that was the case.

"The facilities millage is separate and apart," he said, noting that the board has rejected proposed millages for facilities before. "I don't see the master plan for new schools being any different from what's been proposed, and it's never got a majority of the board."

Meanwhile, teachers and staff have gone wanting, Floyd said. Now they need a boost in their pay. 

"It's time," he said.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.