NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters. (Marta Jewson/The Lens) Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

The NOLA Public Schools district is requesting the Orleans Parish School Board keep its property tax rates the same next year, effectively a tax increase for many New Orleans residents who have seen their property assessments skyrocket. The move, called a “roll forward,” would create a $400 per-pupil funding increase, or nearly $19 million overall. If, on the other hand, the board opts to roll taxes back — lowering them to levels that would produce the same property revenues as this year — the city’s schools stand to lose millions of dollars. 

According to NOLA Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Diane Allison, that’s because the district will lose $9.1 million in state funding next year. A portion of the money the state provides in education funding is based on a district’s “presumed wealth,” which takes assessed home values into account, she said. 

“The Louisiana Department of Education has estimated that state funding to New Orleans Public Schools will decrease by 9.1 million dollars,” Allison said during a comprehensive presentation on the property tax rates — called millages — to Orleans Parish School Board members at a budget committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. “This is due to the increase in taxable value.”

“It is for this reason the administration is recommending a full roll forward of all millages,” Allison said. 

Rolling taxes forward would result in an increase in property tax revenues of about $27.6 million, more than offsetting the loss in state funding, for a net increase of $18.5 million. The board is scheduled to take a vote on the proposal next month. 

This year’s reassessment has been controversial, with thousands of properties facing huge tax increases due to higher assessments. The value of 24,000 properties will jump nearly 50 percent, with thousands more seeing even steeper increases, according to an analysis of property tax data by The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate.

The roll forward could lead to steep tax increases for thousands of property owners whose assessments have gone up drastically this year. The school board is the second-highest taxing authority in Orleans Parish behind the city of New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is also pushing the City Council to approve a roll forward

The $18.5 million increase amounts to roughly $400 per student, from $10,320 to $10,720, according to the presentation. The possibility of partially rolling the taxes forward did not come up at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Board member Ben Kleban asked that school leaders elaborate on how they would use the additional funding. 

NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and Chief of Staff Dina Hasiotis said schools could use the money for items like pay raises or technology. 

“Our schools very much believe this could have a huge measurable impact,” Hasiotis said.

Lewis said he hoped school leaders would come to the public hearing scheduled next month and speak as any constituent would.

Board member Woody Koppel encouraged the city’s charter school leaders to voice their thoughts to the community so taxpayers could hear firsthand how they stand on the proposal. 

“I think there’s a little bit of a disconnect between the public and school leaders over whether they’re in favor of rolling it forward,” Koppel said, noting he attends community meetings. 

“There’s a meeting I’m thinking of … where there’s 300 angry people, angry about rolling the millage forward and there’s school leaders in the group who don’t say anything,” he said. 

Board member Sarah Usdin suggested the district create a form letter the city’s charter school leaders could use when discussing the proposed roll forward. 

In an interview after the meeting, Crescent City Schools CEO Kate Mehok — whose network operates three charter schools — said the recurring revenue would be very valuable for schools. 

“Rolling the millage forward would really mean a lot to schools and families and kids,” she said. “We all want great schools for kids and we know that money really helps provide those opportunities.”

“Not rolling it forward would mean we would actually get less money per pupil and that would be devastating.”

With one-time revenue allocations, Mehok said, maybe you can buy new band equipment. But with additional revenue annually, “you can build out a band program.”

“I can probably list 100 things that schools would use the money for,” Mehok said, mentioning staff raises, curriculum workbooks that students need each year, and facility upgrades. “All of our enrichment activities. You always want to do more in sports, dance, and music,” she said.

“Many of us are in new buildings,” she said. “And no new building got a playground.”

After the meeting, Koppel, Usdin, and board members Leslie Ellison and John Brown Sr. said they hadn’t yet made up their minds.

“I’m gathering information and seeing what’s best for our students as well as our city as a whole,” Ellison said. 

“It’s clear to me that it must be revenue neutral,” Usdin said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to hearing from school leaders about how the revenue could support our students.” 

Board members Nolan Marshall Jr. and Kleban said they will support the roll forward.

“I’m for rolling the millage forward,” Marshall said in an interview. “I don’t believe we do enough. I’d like to see it used in the classroom.” 

Kleban agreed. “I believe it is critical we support our children and schools with those resources,” he said. 

Board member Ethan Ashley did not return a phone call inquiring about his stance. 

The district will hold a hearing on tax rates on Nov. 19 followed by a board meeting to consider the roll forward.

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...