On May 4, 2019, Bossier Parish residents will have a huge decision to make. The issue at hand, two millages are on the ballot: 1.) a property tax increase of 22.94 mills for funding pay raises for teachers and classified employees and 2.) an increase of 3.22 mills to be used in order to establish a dedicated funding source for technology improvements.
Anyway that you look at it, this is not an easy decision. And, as we have all seen in recent days, there are good arguments on both sides. But the question to ask yourself is: How does our school system meet the many challenges and demands with which it is faced both present and future?
In 2012, a $210 million bond referendum was approved by Bossier Parish voters for major facility upgrades to existing schools and to build new schools. These funds were supposed to move the Bossier Parish school system well into the future. And, they have. However, it’s not enough. There is more that has to be done in order to keep up with both growth and technology. And, one of the main ingredients still missing is teacher pay raises.
Last Thursday night, Mitch Downey was sworn as the new superintendent for the Bossier Parish School system. Mr. Downey, as did his predecessors, realizes the fact that retaining teachers is the key to moving our school system forward. And, teacher pay is the main factor in achieving the desired teacher retention rate. To keep our school system from losing teachers to neighboring parishes, Bossier schools cannot continue to offer a lower rate of teacher pay than our neighboring parishes.
It is obvious that our community places a high value upon education. After all, it’s our future. The kids in school today are our future leaders of this community in the decades ahead. We can’t let them down. We can’t fail to properly prepare them. However, it takes great teachers to make this happen.
There is an ever-widening gap between the community sentiment toward all of the great things happening in Bossier Parish schools in comparison to the monetary compensation our teachers are rewarded with to make this happen. Teacher pay has only increased by five percent in Bossier Parish in almost two decades, and this increase was self-funded.
Also, looking at how the population has grown in that same amount of time, there has been tremendous student enrollment increases. Yet, our teachers have not seen a significant pay raise.
Like so many of us, I think of Bossier as setting the standard for this entire area. Therefore, we must keep our best and brightest students at home, and that extends to teachers. Some say 20-plus percent property tax increase should have been done incrementally over a number of years, but we’re losing teachers across state and parish lines. A teacher pay raise proposition was attached to the $210 million bond referendum measures that were approved by Bossier Parish voters in 2012. However, that pay raise proposal failed to pass. So, periodic incremental steps are no longer a real choice. Something has to be done now.
If the teacher pay raise proposition does not pass at this time, it will place our school system in a very tough position. Further ground will be lost not only in terms of current teachers leaving, but also the new teachers that fail to come into the system.
Bossier Parish has seen phenomenally exponential and unparalleled growth over the last two decades. At the root of this growth is our school system. What happens when our schools are no longer that drawing card? What then? Bossier will suffer. Business growth in terms of the creation of new businesses and the expansion of our current businesses will surely suffer.
It is no secret that there are several businesses and individual property owners opposed to these new property tax millage proposals. And, of course, no one ever wants an increase in expenses or monetary outlay of any kind for either their household or their business. Additionally, the fact that these property tax millages would be retroactive to 2019 when we are already in to the second quarter of 2019 makes it tough and seemingly unfair to the budgets of our Bossier Parish businesses.
I manage the expenses for my household, and as publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune I also manage and watch the overall expenses of this newspaper. However, these property tax propositions must be thought of as an investment, not an expense. I think of this like how I teach our advertising representatives to think about selling advertising to businesses — it is an investment, not an expense. And, again, what is going to happen to new business activity in Bossier if the population becomes stagnant because our schools are no longer the drawing card that they once were?
Of course, the Bossier Press-Tribune is a newspaper, but it is also a business. We too wish there were some other means by which to fund the drastically needed teacher pay raises, as well as the other needs of our Bossier Parish school system. However, there is not. In this case, the ends will definitely justify the means.
There can be no quality education without quality teacher pay. The future of our Bossier Parish School System depends upon the decision that will be made by voters on May 4, 2019. As a Bossier Parish voter, you should also -have an opinion in this matter, and you get the opportunity to express it at the polls. Yes, the stakes are high, as is the required investment. However, the return on this investment is priceless in countless ways as we move into the decades ahead for the Bossier Parish that we all hold so dear.
Randy Brown is publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org