Voters approve tax extension to maintain New Orleans schools

New Orleans voters on Saturday approved a $150 million dollar property tax over 10 years to fund maintenance of New Orleans public schools.

The vote means that a property tax set to expire in 2021 will remain in place through 2025. The tax was instituted to repay bonds for school construction and improvements. Now, as those bonds are paid off, the money will shift to a dedicated facilities fund.

The owner of a $200,000 home pays about $62 in that tax.

Though proponents and opponents of the tax generally agreed that the money is necessary to maintain the $1.8 billion federal investment in public school buildings after Hurricane Katrina, they did not agree on the timing of it or how the money will be disbursed.

What was not immediately clear from the text of the proposition, and a chief complaint of opponents, is how the money will be split between the Orleans Parish School District and the Recovery School District.

The two will divvy up the anticipated $15 million each year according to their enrollment. The RSD educates about 70 percent of New Orleans public school students.

The flow of money is guided by Act 543, sponsored by New Orleans state Rep. Walt Leger and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal this summer. Though clearly written with New Orleans in mind, the law is meant to apply statewide – so it doesn’t mention the Orleans Parish School Board by name.

It requires both the RSD and the home school district — the parish school board in this case —  to establish parallel facilities offices. Money will be allocated to each district based on enrollment. Funding will be further divvied up by enrollment per campus, with funds required to stay with the campus.

The tax drew some unlikely opponents — members of the Orleans Parish School Board itself.

School Board members Cynthia Cade, Ira Thomas, and Leslie Ellison voted against placing the proposition on the ballot in the first place. Ellison said there was no need for the vote to occur this year. Indeed most of the money won’t become available for a few years.

Proponents of the tax, such as School Board member Sarah Usdin, said it’s about maintaining the schools, not which agency manages the money.

A campaign supporting the tax was at the center of a legal battle in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s election. Attorney Willie Zanders sued the School Board on behalf of the community group Justice and Beyond, alleging misuse of public funds and property.

The lawsuit was prompted by signs hanging on some city schools that read “Our Students Our Schools Vote Dec. 6” next to a group of smiling children holding their thumbs up.

Schools agreed to remove the banners a few days before the election.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • nickelndime

    366 of 366 precincts in Orleans Parish reporting, 59.1 %, 54,645 voters have put their trust (all of it) in the State. I do not want to hear or read what the State, BESE, White, Dobard, the RSD, or anybody is doing or not doing when buildings fall into disrepair, or millions of dollars get lost inbetween two separate entities, despite the revenue flow. Stan and Kathleen, both public OPSB employees supported it (LAPCS photos). Your/the children (your students) were in the signage with their little thumbs up and the Judge (Tiffany Chase) didn’t see a problem. It was your call – your vote – live with it. See if you can figure out which nonprofit 501(c)(3) runs your child’s school and see if you can make human contact with either a BESE member or one of the 92 RSD employees who have staked out an office on Poydras Street. 12/06/2014 11:10 PM

  • nickelndime

    Excellent coverage, THE LENS. Way to go. U DID DAT! 12/06/2014 11:14 PM