by Elliott Stonecipher
(This is one in a continuing series of articles concerning the Caddo Parish School Board property tax millage proposition set for a May 2, 2015 election. If approved by voters, CPSB nets another $108,000,000 for new schools and other buildings.)
Our research into the Caddo Parish School Board’s tax plan continues. What we are learning is, well, bewildering.
Newly confirmed is a piece of information the tax plan sponsors and sellers are withholding: just how many CPSB property tax millages are lined up for us to fund, and how quickly. That information, it turns out, tell us much about what the board and staff are doing with the tax plan now before us.
We should note that the CPSB remains deafeningly quiet on important tax plan questions. My most recent effort to get answers was a ten-days-ago letter to the superintendent, board president and board member for my district. None has acknowledged receipt of the letter, much less responded.
This striking and deliberate absence of transparency is the hallmark of this op … and is no accident.
What Taxes … and When?
Available on the website of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor is the CPSB’s most recent, 2013-2014, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Included in this wealth of public information is the list of system property tax millages which will expire in future years (SEE here, scroll down to report page 54, browser page 61).
Excluding the “constitutional millage,” the school board has seven property tax millages. Three expire and must be renewed next year:
(Teacher and Other) Employee Salaries & Benefits ….. 20.18-mills
Technology ….. 1.25-mills
Special Renovations ….. 5.15-mills
These 26.58-mills are 35% of the system’s 75.66-mill total property tax, i.e., are a big deal.
The reader will note that the tax plan to be voted on May 2nd, is discretionary, though it has a stated expiration date of 2033. So, this vote, and its political risk to the system, is entirely unnecessary.
Pay for Teachers and Other Employees at Risk
Directly put, this tax plan will most notably endanger next year’s 20.18-mill “Employee Salaries and Benefits” tax.
Why run that risk?! And, why, as we learned this week, is the teacher union in favor of this gamble?
If this May 2nd tussle “wins” (meaning Caddo Parish loses, many of us believe), do the CPSB and teacher union think Caddo taxpayers are going to rush into the next year’s school board Season of Taxation with warm fuzzy feelings for our school system?
What if taxpayers decide enough is enough? Why is brick-and-mortar the priority when we have at least as many schools as in 1970, but one-third fewer students, and could thus save a lot of money by right-sizing, which we have never done?
Latest data (2013-2014) show that our Caddo public school system is, by student enrollment, the state’s third-largest, behind only Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parishes. In teacher salary, we rank 30th (2012-2013). As if to highlight our competitive weakness in this context, the state’s #1 in these rankings is none other than our fresh, new population magnet, DeSoto Parish.
Why are employee salaries not the #1 priority of our board and staff?
Here’s My Bet
Based on long and specific experience, I believe all of this is actually about the proposed school in Southeast Shreveport. I think all else in the package is political cover for that: a hodgepodge of doled-out goodies, politically determined, scattered throughout the parish.
In fact, just such an attempted ramrodding took place – and failed – not very long ago. As the Shreveport Times said of that woeful misfire in its October 29, 2003, editorial:
” … The (school) Board in 2002 was hellbent to call a bond election whether the public was property educated or satisfied that the district had done its homework on facility needs. … those who did turn out to vote were not swayed by a board effort to sugarcoat the ill-advised election with a host of baubles to be sprinkled around the parish at various schools.”
Please, read that again, especially the “hellbent” and “baubles” parts. ‘Sound awfully familiar?
That last attempt failed the smell test so spectacularly that taxpayer complaints brought the Louisiana Legislative Auditor up here to conduct a formal, Investigative Audit. (SEE here, scroll to Report Page 1 for Summary.)
Then the gift to real estate interests was to be an $8,000,000 elementary school. Now it is to be a $24,500,000 elementary / middle school. But, since we can get no confirmation, here are our questions:
… Where is the school to be located … specifically?
… Who are we building it for? A for-profit company? If so, why don’t they build it themselves?
… Why allege that University Elementary is overcrowded when it isn’t (… more soon …) to justify this one?
… Why do this when the intended population strongly prefers private schools?
How much is the land, and why won’t the board commit to using land it bought for this purpose 13 years ago? On the key point of the 20-acre tract of land bought for this school back then, here again is The Times:
“The (Caddo Parish School) board not only bought the land on Norris-Ferry Road at a premium $300,000 price – almost twice the market value, the (LLA) audit determined – but it closed the deal a month before voters were to decide whether they wanted to pay for a school. They didn’t.“
Our money has not been recovered because the CPSB has not sold the land. Neither will they use it.
Now, we are told, this 20-acre tract is “too small” for this newer-bigger-better iteration. We are also told, too, that the old George Washington Carver school site further to the south, which taxpayers also own, won’t do.
Closer to fact, I believe, is that neither of these sites is precisely where those driving this train want to build.
Bottom-line? We can plan all of this much better. We need to hasten back to the drawing board and start over … with maximum transparency.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)