The School Facilities Preservation Millage to help maintain public school buildings will expire next year. On Saturday (October 14), the community will have an opportunity to decide whether to renew this existing millage.
Let’s remember where we started. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our public schools were in shambles. Over a hundred schools were severely damaged or destroyed.
But we didn’t back down. We joined forces with FEMA and the Recovery School District (RSD) to develop the $1.8 billion School Facilities Master Plan and began the hard work of rebuilding our schools.
In 2014, our community approved the School Facilities Preservation Millage, signaling the community’s determination to preserve our rebuilt and renovated schools and to provide the best educational settings for our children. This funding has allowed us to create better learning environments for our students.
To continue this progress, we’re proposing a 20-year renewal of the millage to avoid unplanned investments and ensure steady progress.
From 2014 to 2021, legislative limitations restricted use of the millage funds for emergency facilities repairs only, due to existing bond obligations. We allocated $20 million for emergencies between 2015 and 2021. But many less urgent repairs remained. In 2021, the bond obligations were satisfied, opening up use of the millage funding for the millage’s full intended purpose: preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all public-school facilities.
With the proposed 20-year millage renewal, we plan to invest an estimated $420 million in our existing school facilities. By combining sales tax and millage funds, we’ll have a total budget of $720 million over two decades. This allocation covers the needs of a current 10-year plan that runs through 2028, a future 10-year plan that will be created in 2028, plus unforeseen emergencies (ex: hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc.), and repairs for new facilities from 2025 to 2045.
It’s a comprehensive strategy to support our capital plans, handle unexpected issues, and ensure our schools remain safe and up to date.
This isn’t just about renewing a millage; it’s about honoring our commitment to educating our children in safe and modern spaces. Learning spaces matter, and they can help scholars excel academically.
A 2018 study of 5 million students in Los Angeles public schools showed spending time in new school environments increased math scores by 10% and English scores by 5%. Moreover, students attending such schools added four extra days of learning to their annual calendar. These results emphasize the direct correlation between high-quality school environments and enhanced student motivation, learning behavior, and overall performance.
Inequities in school funding are an unfortunate national issue, as highlighted by CBS News’ analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics. This analysis shows that school districts with a higher percentage of Black students tend to receive significantly less funding for building improvements, while wealthier districts have more substantial resources to enhance their facilities.
For example, the city of Decatur, GA, covering a mere 4 square miles within the larger DeKalb County, dedicated a generous amount of funding per student for facility improvements. In contrast, the vast expanse of the remaining DeKalb County, Ga., spanning 267 square miles, allocated roughly four times less per student for similar improvements.
However, there is a silver lining in New Orleans, where NOLA Public Schools is defying this disheartening trend. We’ve made substantial investments in our school buildings, disrupting the national status quo. By coming together, we can continue to be leaders in the nation as we build a brighter future for our children and our city.
To find out more about the School Facilities Preservation Millage, please visit nolapublicschools.com. Thank you.
Avis Williams, Ed. D., is superintendent of NOLA Public Schools. Versions of this letter may be published in other places as Saturday’s election approaches.