NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In less than a month, Jefferson Parish voters will be asked to approve a property tax increase for teacher and support worker pay raises, though some voters are wondering why the tax is drawing support from some who weren’t so supportive in the past.
Jefferson Parish has the largest public school system in Louisiana with about 51,000 students. But when it comes to retaining teachers, school officials say they're losing one out of six each year, usually to a nearby parish that pays more.
"It was 500 a year for the last three years, so that's significant," said Kesler Camese Jones with the Jefferson Federation of Teachers.
School leaders have now launched a get-out-the-vote campaign seeking approval for a new 7.9 mill tax increase. It’s designed to raise the pay of teachers an average of $3,000 a year, raising them from around $41,000 a year - the lowest in the nine-parish region - to more than $44,000, placing JP in the middle of the regional average.
There are also incentives for teachers who are considered high-performing, or who work in schools that have traditionally seen large turnover. If voters approve May 4, the incentive could get them an extra $2,000 a year.
The millage would raise $29 million in its first year, according to a new report from the Bureau of Governmental Research. BGR is supporting the tax, but some voters are skeptical.
"My kids are long gone. I have little contact with the school system," said Pat Norris of Metairie.
The BGR analysis shows the owner of an average Jefferson Parish home valued at $224,000 would pay $118 more a year. Board member Larry Dale is in support of this tax, after opposing others in the past.
"This is a well-thought-out plan. BGR just doesn't say they like something. This is what we need to attract teachers," said Dale.
Jefferson Parish school officials say this pay raise proposal, and the one being considered in Baton Rouge, provide this school system with a rare opportunity.
"It's the first step toward getting us to the Southern average," said Jones.
The plan also includes raising the pay of support workers by about 20 percent.
"Everyone is getting to a minimum of $15 an hour for our support workers," said Jones.
The Jefferson Parish Chamber is supporting the millage. President Todd Murphy says it’s all part of a strategic plan to try and move the system from a C rating to an A, and raise student test scores, which lag behind the rest of the state.
"Without good education for your kids, we can't stop the problems with our kids that we're having," said Eddie Esposito, a voter who believes the tax is an important first step.
The BGR says if the new tax is approved, 73 percent of the money will go to teacher pay raises, while 27 percent would fund support worker pay increases.