by Elliott Stonecipher
When I last wrote about our Caddo Parish School Board’s new proposal for a would-be spring election, I shared my sense that, at its core, the plan is about CPSB keeping a property tax millage on their books for building new schools (?!).
The pay-down of our capital outlay chunk of property taxes over time has seemingly reached the point with CPSB top folks that this plan was hatched … far too fast, with far too little input, and thus with an already cracked foundation. My take is buttressed by others I respect who are reading it the same way. (I thank each for their counsel.)
Why else, after all, would the CPSB possibly be considering building new schools when there are so many more we must close, before circumstances out of our control close them for us? That the CPSB response to the wave of reform called “school choice” is to build more buildings is stunning, even here … even now.
(I break here to acknowledge that there are a few officials are their associates who are publicly questioning my education / CPSB bona fides. For those few, and any others who are interested, I have written a bit on the subject, as a sort of footnote at the close of this piece.)
I also wrote in my most recent article that if the CPSB wins this particular debate, Caddo and Shreveport lose … big time. A win for CPSB is Board approval of this plan in their meeting next week – regardless that 6-of-12 are brand new members who need much more time to fairly make this decision – and passage by Caddo voters in the spring. Such could well prove to be a marked accelerant of taxpayer outmigration from Caddo Parish, and CPSB’s last hurrah.
To me, that is what this is about, way before we get to any other also-important matters within this new plan: if our Louisiana-highest property tax millage is not cut, significantly, Caddo’s stagnation rolls to decline, and its taxpayer base continues, more rapidly, its out-migration to East Texas, Bossier and DeSoto Parishes, and elsewhere.
Let’s begin with the bigger-picture numbers.
A fact very difficult to openly discuss here – uniquely so in my experience – is that Caddo Parish can no longer offer the quality of life which might justify our 171.00-mills in property taxes. That is the heavy property tax load paid by the average Shreveport home and other property owner, and Shreveporters are 8-of-10 Caddo Parish residents.
Of that total, 76.00-mills are for CPSB, while its Bossier Parish counterpart’s millage is 53.00-mills, even after its own, recent big property tax hike for school construction, etc. In DeSoto Parish, the millage is a bit under 50.00-mills, plus a few additional mills for those in the areas of certain schools. (All such data is available from multiple sources, including the Louisiana Tax Commission.)
Next comes the public-school dedicated sales tax, which is 1.5% in Caddo Parish, and 2.0%-plus in most other parishes / systems. In Bossier Parish it is 1.75%, and in DeSoto it is 2.5%. (Data here.)
For its timely sales tax rate comparisons, I highly recommend today’s (Baton Rouge) Advocate article about its mayor-president’s latest attempt to raise taxes there. There, Mayor-President Kip Holden has been turned back three times in a row in his feverish attempts to load the tax and spending wagon there. Just as Shreveport is known for saying “Yes” to any old tax increase, Baton Rouge is known for saying “No.”
Caddo’s notably lower sales tax dedicated to CPSB opens the door for the Board to make a statement to home- and other property owners that it recognizes the inequity in who pays most of the tax tab here, for all of government. Not only is the property tax kept disproportionately high as compared to most other parishes (by far), but such is done for purely political reasons.
Our total sales tax of 8.6% is below the 9.0% (and rising) norm in Louisiana. In other words, if Caddoans paid 9% in total sales tax, the hammering of property owners – mainly by CPSB – could be reduced, to the degree made possible in a dollar-for-dollar revenue swap: four-tenths higher sales taxes = ??? mills lower property taxes taken off the current 76.00-mill CPSB total.
When you ask the CPSB members and top staffers to consider this, they scream, “sales taxes are regressive!!!” with the same vigor of pols and bureaucrats in the most liberal American places. That primal scream from the tax-and-spend crowd is increasingly suspect in many circles, but regardless, we need only stick with the fact: while CPSB could lower our public school property tax, it simply will not do so. In fact, it doesn’t even consider it.
Now we get to Caddo Parish’s down-and-dirty taxation practice.
While 1-of-3 homeowners pay property taxes, the other 2-of-3 are legally allowed to vote those taxes on the rest of us. How difficult is it, then, to keep the taxation wagon loaded to overflowing? (Data in footnote of this article.) The built-in tax inequity is that fact is inarguable, and many of us believe, unconstitutional … though such has never gotten in the way of the tax wagon and its drivers.
Here is the point, then, in summary:
It is far past time for the CPSB to show Caddo / Shreveport property tax payers that they understand the gross tax inequity here. The only way for them to do that, now, is the tax-swap I’ve described. I do not know how many mills that would remove – the CPSB plan is too convoluted for that – but the point stands, regardless.
That done, we move on to other specifics of the CPSB plan, such as that downright weirdness of building new schools before many more existing ones are closed and shuttered.
If the CPSB continues not to care about this tax inequity which drives population out-migration, particularly among property tax payers, then all of their plans, including this one, should be DOA at the polling booth.
… More later …
Me and Mine, and Caddo Public Schools
Our Caddo public school system is not just another subject I study, and about which I write. It is a subject that matters greatly … personally … to me.
I am a lifelong advocate of open-enrollment public education. My family, all of us except my Haynesville-educated late father, have deep roots in this system. I attended Barrett Elementary, then Linwood Jr. High, then graduated from Byrd. My siblings did the same, and my mother went to Alexander school, and graduated from Byrd. My son went to South Highlands, then Caddo Middle Magnet, and graduated from Magnet High, which well-prepared him for college, and his career at Microsoft.
I earned my undergraduate degree in English, and my Master’s in (educational) Administration. My first job after college graduation was teaching in Bossier Parish.
When I soon left teaching, I did so to work in the Louisiana Department of Education as Director of Higher Education and Teacher Certification, and then Associate Superintendent of Research. It was my job to push through the legislative process the requirement that our teachers pass the National Teachers Examination for certification, at which I succeeded. In my Research assignment, I poured into statewide comparative analysis of school districts, particularly their financing and like metrics, something which was not yet a priority or routine in Louisiana.
Later in my Caddo Parish life, I chaired various study committees and task forces for the Caddo Parish School Board in the 1980s, 1990s, and the final one in 2000.
In 1999, I was hired by CPBS to demographically study and project well into the future our school enrollment. The study projected a startling, and not at all positive, future, which we are now well into. I soon provided exactly the same professional service to the Bossier Parish system. The Caddo vs. Bossier comparison was far more revealing than anyone in Caddo then cared to know. Very unfortunately, many in our local leadership still totally ignore those facts.
In that study, working closely with the CPSB and staff, I gathered a great deal of information and data which has proved invaluable through the years … in all of my work for our community.
All of that is to say this: I know this system well. I have known it well, one way or another, my entire life. Most Superintendents of Caddo schools, going back decades, have been friends I respected, as is true of many school board members.
I’m not winging it with this work. I have always taken it seriously, as I do now.