St. Mary Parish School Board member Ginger Griffin proposes naming the Hammonds and Sills law firm as the board's general counsel. Board member Wayne Deslatte looks on.
The Daily Review/Bill Decker
School tax decision coming in November
CENTERVILLE — The St. Mary Parish School Board is set to decide next month whether to ask voters for a sales tax to increase teacher and staff pay.
The next School Board meeting will be nearly a year since the board started an ill-fated effort to institute the new tax.
At Thursday’s meeting, delayed a week by Hurricane Delta, the board decided to advertise that it will talk about the tax at the 5 p.m. Nov. 12 meeting. A proposed timetable distributed to board members has the board passing a resolution calling for a March 20 election on a 0.45% sales tax.
The tax would raise about $4 million a year, said Chief Financial Officer Alton Perry. School Board members are likely to propose a $3,000 annual raise for teachers and a $1,500 raise for other employees. The tax would take effect in July under the timeline.
School officials have said they need to raise salaries to remain competitive in attracting new teachers and other employees.
After it began to push for a tax in December 2019, the board had more adventures than Indiana Jones.
The board originally passed a resolution asking voters for a 0.5% sales tax, with the proceeds going into a technology fund as well as to faculty and staff pay.
The proposal ran into opposition almost immediately from Parish President David Hanagriff and Morgan City Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi over the potential impact on St. Mary’s economy.
State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, also objected to the inclusion of the technology fund and to putting the tax on a spring ballot. Allain’s opposition was especially significant because, as chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, he sits on the State Bond Commission, which must approve the call for a tax election.
Allain said he recognized the need for more teacher pay. But if the technology fund was included, he said, he’d insist on a Nov. 3 elec-tion, when turnout would be higher.
The board eventually removed the technology fund from the dedication and reduced the proposed tax to 0.45%. On the second try, the Bond Commission approved the call for the 0.45% tax.
The ballot language developed by the Secretary of State’s Office didn’t match what the board intended. That and the COVID-19 pandemic led the board to remove the tax from consideration by voters.
The Nov. 12 meeting will be at the Central Office Complex in Cen-terville.
—The board agreed to hire the Baton Rouge firm of Hammonds & Sills as general legal counsel.
The 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office provides legal representation to the School Board and other local governments. But some members felt the board would benefit from representation by a firm that specializes in laws affecting schools.
“The Legislature is constantly adding new laws to the School Board …,” said member Marilyn LaSalle. “We need someone whose job will be to be on top of it.”
Having a Hammonds & Sills attorney at monthly board meetings will cost $12,000-$15,000 a year, Perry said.
“I feel like the budget can handle it,” he said.
—The official enrollment for St. Mary public schools this fall is 7,678, a decrease of 494 students, or 6%, from last year, Superintendent Teresa Bagwell said.
Similar enrollment declines are common around the state, Bag-well said.
The decline has impli-cations for the district’s finances. State funding for local schools is based in part on enrollment.
Another official count will be reported in February.