No matter how you define it, the Bossier Parish School District asks for an unwarranted property tax increase on May 4.
Early this year, the School Board voted to put a pair of hikes on this ballot, which as a typically local-only election date tends to draw low turnout. If its members thought this would shorten the odds of passing the roughly 26 mills (about 23 going to salaries to make the total dedicated to pay starting this year around 60) by having school employees disproportionately show up at the polls to approve their own raises, it backfired.
Instead, local groups have sprung up in opposition with aggressive campaigns to defeat both measures. At least two have mailed out pieces or made phone calls asking for rejection. These are the Good Government Coalition, whose organizers include local business representatives and political activists, and Building a Better Bossier, whose principals are associated City Tele-Coin, a business with extensive government contracts (introducing an element that creates another layer of political intrigue involving Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who as a state legislator championed funding efforts for Bossier schools and on the PSC has butted heads with the company on regulatory issues).
Additionally, Bossier businessman Martin Grau has launched a one-man campaign against the hikes. In broadcast radio advertisements, he asserts that he would abandon expansion plans if voters approve of the tax increase. The Bossier Chamber of Commerce also publicly has expressed opposition, noting that businesses pay 70 percent of parish property taxes.
Businesses are right to be wary. Property taxes dedicated to schools would rise about 40 percent if the measures pass, and at least two dozen area businesses already pay at least $300,000 a year to the school district, meaning at minimum a $120,000 hit annually. Many residents also will see considerably higher tax bills: even with the homestead exemption, owners of the median-valued home in Bossier Parish ($164,100) would pay an additional $232 a year.
And it’s not like citizens of the parish don’t pay enough in property taxes. Pending other local tax elections across the state, Bossier City residents (those elsewhere in the parish pay more still for fire and ambulance service) would see their burden rise from 17th to 9th highest in the state. Insofar as schools go, the current Bossier rate ranks third highest only behind Zachary Community and Caddo Parish; it would be 13 mills higher than Zachary’s if both measures passed.
This has led some opponents to voice support in concept for school employee salary increases, but through other taxing means such as in the sales tax (although the Constitution caps all local sales taxes in a parish at 3 percent, legislators can lift this). However, a review of financial data shows Bossier schools generally speaking don’t seem to do as well as other districts in translating what they have into paying teacher and support services personnel.
Regarding state support, for this academic year Bossier was budgeted to receive $9,160 per pupil (which will change slightly depending on a number of factors), or 45th among the 69 districts, but nearly $100 more than the state average. Its local support per pupil of $4,787 ranked even better relatively, in 27th place, although almost $500 below the state average.
With Bossier at 45th in state money and 27th in local dollars, it pays out only 45th in average salary. By these metrics, salary should rank several spots higher.
The real impetus behind the hike comes from surrounding parishes ranking statewide anywhere from first through seventeenth (Caddo) in salary, with Bossier school leaders citing a competitive pay gap. But the electorate shouldn’t reward administration that punches below its weight in providing compensation by making Bossier residents and businesses pay a one-sixth higher property tax rate for schools than the next highest in the state (and Zachary, the highest-ranked district in the state by performance, gets much more bang for its buck than 20th-ranked Bossier).
Voters need to reject these, signaling to the district that it must explore alternatives to trigger pay increases and earn the people’s confidence that it has done all it can before digging deeper into taxpayers’ pockets.