Some things about local and parish government around here are plain ol’ inarguable. Near the top of that list is this: when it comes to taxing the economic life out of this place, no government body has done more of it, or been better at it over time, than the Caddo Parish School Board.
The political left-of-center, tax-and-spend machine of CPSB members and the administrative staff now wants $108,000,000 for new schools and other buildings. I did not make that up. New schools!
This time, Election Day will be May 2nd. The story, however, is very different from CPSB’s many, many previous such spending hootenannies. This time, our Caddo Parish home quite literally cannot – by any objective analysis – afford this.
If the “greater good” still has meaning here, it dictates and demands that property taxes ONLY go down … a lot.
CPSB does not need this money. It just wants it. It knows that we in Caddo live in a place where only 1-of-3 of us pay property taxes while the other 2-of-3 are legally allowed to vote those taxes on us. Even with enough existing schools for a system with half-again its enrollment, it wants to build more.
In fact, since CPSB well knows it has more available brick-and-mortar than perhaps any governmental body outside of Detroit, this political op is really about keeping a capital outlay millage on the tax books. When a system has no need to build, it has no need for capital outlay money and property taxes. The solution? If you are CPSB, build, build, build and waste, waste, waste … because they can … and always have.
The Perils of Polluted Process
Bearing witness to the error of CPSB’s ways in this matter is the process itself. For openers, no one with good government in mind can – or will ever – understand how the six newly elected Board members voted to approve this notion even before attending their first CPSB meeting.
As we have learned, these members were included in a several-month, closed-door process employed by Superintendent Goree and his staff to hammer-out the plan’s details. “Closed-door” means beyond the reach of sunshine-rich, transparent public meetings.
I attended one of those closed meetings, in fact, and was sickened by what I learned there. I was asked to meet with the superintendent, with neither a reason for the meeting, nor any reference to other attendees. I took the meeting without asking those questions, which is completely my fault. When I arrived, I was one of two citizens in a room full of CPSB administrators. Their job was to preview and explain their plan. My comments were anything but positive, and, therefore, roundly ignored.
I later learned how many meetings of this and other kinds were held, and that Board members were involved in “threes” to skirt open meetings laws. ‘Bottom line? Newly elected school board members heard no open discussion or criticism of the plan. They went along with the CPSB crowd, to our detriment.
Stark evidence of this fact is what occurred over this past weekend to District #4’s newly elected member, Susannah Poljak, following the publication by the Shreveport Times of her op-ed in support of the plan.
Ms. Poljak’s column proved the fact: it was impossible for newly elected Board members to understand that on which they voted. In several ways and parts, she wrote things which are factually incorrect … some of them big things. Along with another local government watcher, Dr. Mel DeSoto, I politely responded in the “Comments” space of the online edition of the Times.
After thanking Ms. Poljak for her service, I took on her claim that CPSB “has closed 14 schools since 2000.” That staff assertion is as shot full of holes as an aged highway sign on a time-forgotten backwoods road. The Central Office plan lists 13 “closed” schools, though I come up with 8. “Closed,” we know, does not mean “closed” to CPSB folk.
In fact, our “school” system is now mainly about jobs and a gusher of public money, not so much the education of our children. Many Board members would agree to have teeth pulled without anesthesia before giving up one of “their” schools to closure. Thus, as examples, with no children living anywhere near Ingersoll Elementary for years, it became the “Academic Recovery Center.” And, when Central Office heard news of a $600,000 offer for long-empty Hamilton Terrace, it instead took the property off the market so it can now build a new school there … after tearing down the beautiful existing building.
Then came Ms. Poljak’s stunner: “And if you think Bossier taxpayers have a better deal, they don’t. Bossier pays more than twice as much in property tax as Caddo …”
The truth is the opposite. Caddo property tax payers are hit with a 43% higher school tax. Our millage rate is 76-mills to their 53-mills.
I would not necessarily expect a newly elected CPSB member to know the precise millages, but I do expect them to understand the determinative point at issue. Much of Caddo’s school enrollment collapse traces to population out-migration from Caddo – to Bossier, DeSoto, East Texas, etc. – which has been powerfully fueled by decades of our dramatically higher property taxes.
The process which yielded this plan was foul. Secrecy, deceit, and self-serving intentions of some of the “planners.” Long experience teaches me that this process exploited newly elected Board members, regardless that those four votes did not make the difference.
At a critical time in our history, the administration and Board faced a question as it hatched this plan. They could either act to lower our parish’s growth- and hope-killing property tax load, or act yet again with a half-baked and loudly arrogant soaking of our ever-dwindling base of taxpayers.
Theirs was the wrong choice … at Caddo Parish’s worst time.
(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.)