Schools discuss numbers behind tax proposals

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Sonja Bailes, public liaison for Bossier Parish Schools, gave a presentation on the school tax propositions during a speech to residents of south Bossier. (Randy Brown/Press-Tribune)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

On May 4, Bossier Parish voters will consider two separate ballot proposals that will impact Bossier Parish students and faculty…But what will it mean for the taxpayer?

One proposal would consist of a property tax increase of 22.94 mills for funding pay raises for teachers and classified employees. The second proposal would consist of 3.22 mills for a dedicated fund source for technology improvements.

If both proposals are approved, teachers will receive an annual $7,200 across-the-board raise. Classified employees like bus drivers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers and custodians would receive $3,000 raises. 

The second proposition would create a dedicated funding source to allow the district to make technology improvements across all its schools. 

As previously reported by the Press-Tribune, Interim Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Mitch Downey said, “We still need to attract and retain quality teachers to provide the best instructions for our students that we possibly can. Also our technology needs are growing day to day. So we want to continue to pursue that. We are determined, we are resilient and we are going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can to provide for our students and teachers now and in the future. May 4 is a very important day for our employees and our community.” 

Sonja Bailes, public liaison for Bossier Parish Schools, has recently been attending community meetings to inform groups about the reasoning behind the tax propositions.

“Bossier pays less than its neighboring districts, which can compromise the ability to offer competitive salaries to attain and retain high quality teachers,” she said.

She said teacher turnover rate in Bossier Parish has increased in the past three years. In the 2015-16 school year, turnover was 10 percent. In the 2017-18 school year, turnover increased to 12 percent.

Bailes went on to compare teacher salaries with surrounding parishes. She pointed out the average starting pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree is $42,827. Caddo is slightly higher at $44,565, Webster is $45,614, Red River is $46,310, and Desoto Parish is $48,000.

Now, for what that means to the taxpayers, if the teacher and professional personnel pay raise millage is passed, Bossier homeowners will pay $172.08 per year on a $150,000 home and $516.12 per year on a $300,000 home.

For the technology proposition, homeowners with a $150,000 home would pay $24.12 per year and homeowners with a $300,000 home would pay $72.48.

For Bossier business owners, the teacher and professional personnel pay raise would affect their commercial property valued at $100,000 to a tune of $28.68 per month, $57.35 per month on a $200,000 business property, and $86.03 per month on a $300,000 business property.

The technology proposition millage would cost businesses $4.03 per month on commercial property valued at $100,000, $8.05 on $200,000 value, and $12.08 on $300,000 value.                       

Bossier Parish Tax Assessor, Bobby W. Edmiston, provided examples to the Press-Tribune of how much the tax increase could impact some larger businesses in the area, noting that a chain store like Home Depot would pay $38,378.69, while Horseshoe Casino would pay $494,031.24.

“In Louisiana, all businesses pay property taxes on all moveable property as well as real property. For example, Walmart pays on the building and land that it owns, but also has a separate bill for all of the furniture, fixtures, equipment, inventory at that same location,” said Edmiston. “A business with a property value of $100,000 would pay $393.30 in additional tax annually. A company with $500,000 in property value would see a $1,966.50 tax increase.”

Bailes also answered why a property tax is being sought instead of a sales tax, explaining, “A parish wide sales tax is not possible because the town of Benton, Haughton, and Plain Dealing are already at the state-imposed 5-percent limit.”

She also explained that although enrollment has increased, the district has failed to receive enough money to keep up with expenditures from growth.

“Enrollment has increased by 2,163 students since 2010. We do receive an additional $3,961 for each new student; however, the State Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) base amount per student has remained flat since the 2014-15 school year. Expenditures for all 22,128 students have increased $1,376 per student since 2010,” Bailes said. “That equals an additional $30.4 million dollars being spent each year per student in the classroom.”

Combined with Bossier Parish seeing a decrease in property tax collections for the past two years — 2017 decreased from 2016 by 3.2%, a loss of approximately $2.260M, and 2018 decreased from 2016 by 2.6 percent, a loss of approximately $1.629M — making the option to seek taxpayer funding the only resort.

“Bossier Schools has shown proven fiscal responsibility. For 26 years, Bossier Schools has been awarded the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting for its money management practices,” Bailes noted in her presentation. “

She noted examples such as the school board saving taxpayers $562,000 in interest by paying off a series of school bonds ahead of the prescribed time schedule, and pointed out that Carrie Martin Elementary was consolidated with Plain Dealing High School, reaping more then $300,000 in savings this year.