A year after Jefferson Parish voters narrowly rejected a proposed tax increase to raise teacher salaries, the Jefferson Parish School Board has decided to ask again.
The board voted this week to put a 7.9-mill tax for employee pay raises on the May 4 ballot, after Superintendent Cade Brumley argued that higher pay is the best way to combat the district's problems with teacher turnover.
The board is also asking for a new 8.31-mill tax to pay for facilities upgrades.
The board voted unanimously Thursday night to submit both taxes to the voters.
Over the last four years, the parish has lost more than 1,500 teachers and currently has 44 vacancies, Brumley said in a presentation to board members. Some job postings have resulted in zero applicants.
"I know we are only as good as the employees we work alongside each and every day," Brumley said.
The proposed millage comes as Gov. John Bel Edwards is also pitching a $1,000-per-year raise for all Louisiana teachers, something he has argued is necessary to lift the state toward the regional average. But Brumley said the governor's plans would have no impact on Jefferson’s situation, because even if the state passes Edwards’ plan, pay in Jefferson will still fall well short of its neighbors.
Under Brumley’s proposal, starting teacher pay would be raised to $46,000 from $41,199. Teachers could earn additional stipends by teaching certain “target” subjects, such as high school math, physics or chemistry. Stipends could also be earned by teaching at schools with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students or students who are learning the English language.
Raising the salary to $46,000 would make Jefferson’s starting pay the second highest in the metro area, behind only Plaquemines Parish, where starting teachers earn $46,300, according to Brumley. Average teacher pay would go up $3,360 under the plan.
Support personnel would also get a raise, he said.
Despite voters’ rejection of the last proposal, there was nary a word of dissent when the plan was pitched to the board Thursday night. Public comment was also uniformly supportive, and teachers were also pleased to see the decision put to voters.
“We are in full support of the resolution to be placed on the ballot,” said Kesler Camese-Jones, acting president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The millage to finance raises for teachers and other employees would be a 10-year tax that would be collected starting in 2019. The facilities millage, amounting to a little over $30 million a year, would be collected starting when the parish begins issuing an estimated $750 million in bonds for construction or renovation of structures.
The tax for raises would bring in close to $29 million per year, but the raises would cost more than $32 million. The difference would be made up from currently available funds, Brumley said.
In November 2017, the board, at the urging primarily of member Cedric Floyd, put an 8.45-mill tax before voters that would have funded across-the-board employee raises. Voters rejected the plan by fewer than 500 votes out of more than 41,000 cast.
Four months later, when Brumley took the superintendent's job, he pointed to teacher pay as a key issue that the system needs to address if it wants to remain competitive with surrounding, smaller districts.
This tax proposal may have a better chance at passing. The November 2017 proposal was driven by the controversial Floyd and was not fully supported by all board members.
The new proposal has grown out of a committee that included members of the business community as well as representatives of the teachers union. The hope is that the broad coalition that helped create this proposal will help it get through the parish's electorate.
Currently, the parish collects 22.91 mills in property taxes for schools, far lower than some surrounding parishes, such as St. Tammany, which gets 66.41 mills, or St. Charles, which gets 55.76.
A report presented earlier this year estimated that it would take $700 million to bring the parish's facilities up to standard within 10 years. The extra $50 million in bonds is there to cover expected inflation costs.
If the facilities millage is passed, construction and renovation work would be done in two phases. The first would include replacing J.C. Ellis School, renovating Thomas Jefferson Advanced Academy and Ella Dolhonde Elementary and building new schools to replace Thibodeaux, Pitre, Douglas and St. Ville elementary schools.