The School Board works directly for the citizens of the Parish. To do that the Board must:
-Ensure a secure learning environment
-Hire a Superintendent and provide resources to ensure we educate and graduate students who are prepared for their chosen next step whether that is college, vocational-technical, or other pursuits
-Establish policies for a planned program of education to be executed by the Superintendent and staff
-Adopt a realistic annual budget and ensure that expenditures are being managed in a manner that is aligned with the budget
-Be transparent to the public: provide periodic reports on progress and needs of the schools, the instructional program, and the financial health of the district
I have attended three school board meetings.
The MFP is the State contribution to fund the education of our children. The MFP comes with strings attached in the form of various mandates, which are usually aligned with our educational methods and goals. The MFP represents approximately half of our annual operating budget, representing the single largest source of revenue. Accordingly, the MFP is essential to Saint Tammany Parish schools as the other sources of revenue would not be enough to maintain the current level of support for our children.
According to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), “The Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) is a formula established to determine the cost of a minimum program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools — essentially, what it costs to provide each Louisiana student with the minimum educational foundation necessary for future success. The resulting calculation is then used to help distribute funds among parish, city, and other local school systems.” On its face this statement is not correct. Clearly, it takes far more to reach the “minimum educational foundation necessary for future success” for our children and by that definition the MFP is an unfunded mandate. How could MFP funding that doesn’t even cover the cost of our teachers meet the definition of funded?
Common Core is an unfunded mandate passed down from our State government. We could argue that this, too, is part of the MFP discussed above; however, this is a significant program we are required to use. Many states wanted Race to the Top funds and viewed Common Core as a path to those funds from the Federal Government. That funding was not enough to cover the cost of the program as implemented and the remainder is also not fully funded by the State.
Any unfunded mandate has the effect on local governments of having to make hard choices. Generally, we are in an environment where our citizens believe we pay enough taxes already. When a new requirement comes without specific funding attached it forces local school boards to further prioritize educational programs and services. It means we drop something, something that we had previously established as important for our children. It renders local choice and local priorities irrelevant.
The out of district policy says it is “to ensure that individual school facilities and resources are not overextended by allowing out of district placement of students in such numbers that could cause schools to be unable to provide programs and services to students who live within the school’s geographic attendance boundaries.” The first step is to be vigilant in enforcing the policy. If overcrowding of some schools and under-utilization of others persists the next step is to determine whether we should renew permission for previously granted “out of district” attendance. The final step is to examine realigning school attendance boundaries to keep our schools utilized in the most efficient manner possible. Realigning school attendance boundaries can happen each year though I expect to minimize this due to the disruption this brings.
I do not believe that increasing the school board tax millage to cover this cost will be necessary. The 2018-2019 Operating Budget represents a relatively flat or no growth profile; however, history shows us that in a growing Parish such as ours we can expect revenue growth. It is a natural result of living in a growing Parish. I also do not believe that the non-renewals of other millages recently will also affect the school board tax millage. I expect our citizens to stay the course for now provided we show that we are taking all necessary steps to effectively use their money.
The School Board took the first steps by approving an initial policy regarding the Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) on September 6, 2018 with the full knowledge that it must be amended going forward as they learn more about the program. It was clear that the Board and many of the public in attendance did not fully understand what ITEP means to our Parish. I found that some focused on the short term loss of revenue rather than on the long term gain brought by establishing new business or encouraging growth by existing business. It is too easy for new businesses to simply choose another, more business friendly, location. And it is unfair to hamstring existing businesses by withholding our approval when their competitors can just go down the road. If you think short, you get short. Ad valorem taxes account for less than half of our local revenue. Growth in our local economy also grows sales and use tax collections, which represent nearly one half of our local revenue and this source is not abated by ITEP.
I do wish that Louisiana government amend ITEP to share the features if the Inventory Tax Credit incentive. With the Inventory Tax Credit businesses pay inventory taxes to the local taxing authority and then the following year when they prepare their Louisiana State Income and Franchise Tax return they get a tax credit abating 100% of the local inventory taxes paid. Doing this would have made it easier to keep total control of the ITEP in the hands of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. A one-stop-shop for incentives makes it easier for business. But that is not what we have now where every local taxing authority must now weigh in on approving or denying an ITEP application. It results in significantly more effort by many more people to manage at the local government level. It has become less efficient to administer.
Every case should be analyzed; however, I expect that the School Board should be able to accept most ITEP applications. And, provided we can get comfortable with the long-term viability of the applicant, I believe we should plan on accepting most ITEP applications.