What do you see as the main job responsibilities of a school board representative and how many school board meetings have you attended in person in the last two years?

In my opinion, the main job responsibility as a school board representative is to provide a 2-way conduit between my constituency and the St. Tammany Parish Schools. This includes such routine functions as finding answers to a parent’s question as to why a child’s school bus route has changed to the more complex functions as the establishment of goals, priorities and policies that are consistent with the values and beliefs of the people I represent. The school board representative needs to preserve the partnership relationship between the school system and the community it serves. To be successful, the representative should be neither a rubber stamp for accepting and disseminating decisions and policies established by the school system administration nor should he be a revolutionary willing to tear down an effective working system based on the vocal dissent of a few.  As of today’s, date, August 25, 2018, I have physically attended only four School Board Meetings in the last two years but have had numerous discussions on school board matters with my current school board representative, Robin Mullett.

 

What is the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) and why is it important to the St. Tammany schools?

The Minimum Foundation Program is a formula developed each year by the BESE board and voted on by the state legislature. The formula is used to determine the proportion of state funds that are provided annually to each district. The majority of the formula (Level 1 @ 67%) is based on a per student basis (categories of students such as special education and gifted are weighted to help accommodate the additional cost per student).  There is a disturbing portion of the formula (level 2) that is based on the local property and sales tax revenue. This portion (often referred to as the wealth measurement) punishes communities that take appropriate steps to improve their situation through tax increases and rewards communities that do not.  The formula is adjusted so that the average share payout of state funds to the school districts is proportioned as 65% by the state and 35% by the communities.  The state provided portion to achieve this average can vary between 30% and 90%. Since the state provides only 51% of the St Tammany School System’s budget, I assume St Tammany is considered wealthy and is among the communities being punished for doing the right thing. Regardless of that conversation, the MFP is provided as a block grant to the school district with the stipulation that at least 70% of the money be used for instructional purposes. Since the St Tammany instruction budget (teacher pay) exceeds the MFP, the state grant is applied (in total) to the teachers pay and provides the bulk of this expenditure. The state law providing for the MFP has been in effect since the start of the 2000 school year.  A provision of this law mandates a 2.75% annual increase in the Cost Per Pupil Amount.  This provision was provided for the first 8 years of the MFP but subsequently ignored so that no increase has been provided for the past 10 years. Why is MFP important to St. Tammany Schools? Since this grant fund provides the bulk of the teacher’s pay, a failure by the state to provide any increase in this money for the past 10 years makes it extremely difficult to fund additional teacher pay increases without further increases in local tax revenue which may also have the effect of further decreasing the state contributions.

 

The state has imposed numerous unfunded mandates on the St. Tammany school system. Discuss two of these mandates and how they affect the school-operating budget.

Many of the state-imposed mandates are perfectly acceptable and are useful in achieving our goals and objectives.  The problem is that each and every one of them impose additional financial costs and because the state doesn’t even adequately fund our teacher’s salaries these additional costs must be taken directly from local tax revenues. Furthermore, because these are mandates, there is no flexibility regarding prioritization or level of funding. One such mandate is the National Certification Program for teachers and guidance counselors. I think most will agree that having nationally certified personnel is a worthy goal for any school system.  When first established, the state provided a $5000 per year stipend to those personnel who maintained this national level certification.  Over the years, the state continued to require the stipend but stopped providing the funding. From an estimate I received, this left the St Tammany School System with an unfunded annual mandate of $775,000. Similarly, the state has mandated LEAP testing, but has never provided funding to compensate for the over $1,000,000 annual cost. As mentioned in this question, there are numerous of these unfunded mandates from the state and, when combined with Federal unfunded or partially funded mandates, add up to millions, if not 10’s of millions, of unfunded, non-discretionary, annual expenses derived totally from local revenues.

 

Tammany has an “out of district” policy that states a student must attend the public school in the district where the parent/ guardian owns a home and claims a homestead exemption or has proof of rent or lease.  There have been reported cases in which the policy has been violated.  A by-product of the policy violation is the overcrowding of some schools and under-utilization of others. Do you think anything should be done to balance the enrollment and reduce the need for more buildings? If so, what?

Growth has never been uniformly consistent across St Tammany Parish.  I am aware of the rapid growth in the population of West St Tammany and the overcrowding of the schools that is occurring. Before committing to any capital improvement program and possible millage increase proposals, every effort should me made to fully utilize existing resources.  This usually means redistricting and is an extremely painful process. Many families buy their homes based on the quality of the school system at that location. At the time of the purchase, they are told that their children will be attending elementary school ‘A’, junior high school ‘B’ and senior high school ‘C’. As a result of redistricting they may now be told that their children are expected to attend schools: ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’. Redistricting may also impact property values, so all home owners have skin in the game. The obvious solution to the redistricting problem is to assure that all schools are of the highest quality, but this is rarely achievable.  To ease the pain of redistricting, it is needed to be phased in over a number of years with accommodations such as grandfathering provisions made to implementation plan.

 

A major concern to parents and voters is the safety of our children while they are in our care at school.  By the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, all 55 schools will have a school resource officer (SRO) funded by FEMA and the BP oil settlement.  These funds will eventually expire.  Would you favor increasing the school board tax millage to cover this cost or do you have another suggestion for coming up with the money?

I am aware that both school resource officers and mental health providers have been provided for all 55 schools. I support this experiment and agree that it is an appropriate use of the BP windfall money. I do approach this as an experiment and expect both positions to be evaluated thoroughly throughout its first year’s implementation.  Is it effective or is it a feel-good solution with little or no impact such as taking shoes off at the airport?  As was demonstrated in the Parkland, FL shooting in February of this year, having a school resource office was neither effective in preventing the shooting or diminishing the results of the tragedy. I am not a proponent of one-size-fits-all and do not think this experiment has been fully thought out. Is it appropriate for an elementary school with a population of 202 students to be provided the same resources as a high school with 1969 students? Would I favor increasing the school board tax millage to cover this cost? Personally, I don’t, but more importantly, as I intend to reflect the views of my constituency, I am convinced at this time that no tax millage increase would be supported. Do I have another suggestion for coming up with the money? As with this experiment, I believe every program and every position should be thoroughly evaluated for its relevancy and effectiveness. I support a zero-based budget implementation that provides that all funding is evaluated against the accepted goals and priorities and not to simply accept that everything should be funded at the same level as the past.  If 55 school resource officers are deemed a high enough priority, it will be funded at the expense of something with a lower priority.

 

The Louisiana Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program allows school districts to reject exemptions that decrease the tax revenue available to the school board. What action, if any, should the school board take in compliance with the current law to adopt new policies and standards for industries seeking tax exemptions?  Do you think the school board should accept or reject most exemptions?

The school board is not in a position to effectively evaluate numerous requests for exemptions.

Furthermore, it is not efficient for every agency to conduct its own initial evaluation of these exemption requests. I believe a plan is being developed for all affected local agencies to partner with the St Tammany Parish Economic Development District to perform initial data gathering and to project the expected impact from each proposal. While the policies and standards will still need to be developed and the ultimate decisions made by each local agency, this initial data gathering step eliminates duplication of effort and puts the start of the process in the hands of professions qualified to perform this function.