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Guest Commentary: Another Property Tax Increase by the Caddo Parish School Board?

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The facts find no – zero – justification

Last week’s news confirmed that the Caddo Parish School Board will soon vote on a roll-forward of its property tax millage rate, regardless of the fact that the system’s property tax haul is already the highest in Louisiana. A basic analysis of our public school system’s core metrics argues loudly against any additional revenue, and in favor of much lower spending.

The proposed CPSB budget is for $492,000,000 in spending, and the proposed property tax millage roll-forward throws another $5,400,000 into that bottomless vessel. Some school board members went on the record last month opposing further tax increases, but the possibility of passage stares us in the face, as reported this past week in a Shreveport Times article and in the paper’s endorsement of higher property taxes. Another recent online article reports how the Bossier Parish School Board recently decided NOT to follow Caddo’s never-miss-a-chance-to-raise-taxes strategy.

A stark picture of spending excess without improvement in education quality is painted by basic historical data and comparisons.

1. In Caddo Parish, the number of those who pay taxes doesn’t grow, while tax increases do.

As most of us well remember, Caddo Parish entered the present era of population (and other) stagnation in the 1980s, owing mainly to what we still refer to as the “drying up of the oil patch.” In fact, the banking and real estate industries crumbled along with the energy sector, and the most current population data confirm that we never truly recovered: Caddo’s population was 252,358 in the 1980 Census, and is only slightly higher, 254,969, in the 2010 Census. Our population “growth” rate over those 30 years is 1.0%, compared to 7.8% for Louisiana, and 36.3% for the nation.

Given our population stagnation, Caddo’s property tax payers are likely to decrease in number in coming years, but will continue to face property (and other) taxes which are always rising. Most of Caddo’s property tax, 40%, goes to support the public school system: 78.200-mills of the combined residential property tax millage of 187.220-mills goes to the Caddo school board. (The state Department of Education’s latest, 2009-2010 data show Caddo’s parishwide average public school millage at an adjusted rate of 75.900-mills, excluding 1% for tax collection.)

In addition to property taxes, the Caddo public schools receive a 1.50% sales tax. While that 1.50% is lower than the statewide public school average of 1.98%, our 78.200-mill residential property tax is 93.1% higher, or nearly double, the statewide average of 40.500-mills – before any possible CPSB action to further raise the property tax millage.

2. Spending from all sources by the CPSB is now in the stratosphere compared to thirty years ago, more than double the rate of inflation.

The CPSB property tax millage in the 1980-1981 school year – according to the subject DOE website report (.pdf Page 148, report Page 136) – was 37.470-mills. At the current levied rate of 78.200-mills, the property tax has increased 108.70%, and the sales tax rose from 1.0% to 1.5%.

Total spending from all sources by the CPSB in 1980-1981 was just over $104,000,000, while the currently proposed (all revenue) spending plan is $492,000,000, a spending increase of 372.1%. To keep that stunning increase in context, note that the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index) during the period to have been 177.4%, meaning that Caddo Parish public school spending has more than doubled the rate of inflation during this period.

3. This stunning amount of spending has come during a period whenenrollment continues to decline.

As detailed in the linked and previously cited DOE reports, the enrollment in Caddo public schools is down 14.0% between 1980-1981 and the current school year, not surprising given the population stagnation / decline for those years. Specifically, an apples-to-apples comparison shows Kindergarten-through-12th Grade enrollment – there was no pre-kindergarten program then – of 47,127 in 1980-1981, and 40,538 now. (This year’s October enrollment, always somewhat inflated, was 42,314, from which multi-program pre-kindergarten enrollment of 1,776 children is subtracted for this comparison.)

4. With all the taxes and spending, official DOE performance data continues to show a below-the-Louisiana-average education quality.

The state DOE Data “District Performance Data” (click on “Districts-at-a-Glance,” then on Caddo Parish, then on “Run Report”) show a Caddo public schools Performance Score for 2010 of 87.3, below the state average of 91.8. Other detail related to testing data is included with this link.

My background and perspective in this matter is worth mentioning. I am a product of Caddo public schools, as is my son. I have taught in public schools, served as president of a classroom teachers association, and served in the state Department of Education, both as state Director of Teacher Certification, then Associate Superintendent of Research and Development. In support of Caddo’s children, the school board, and our system’s administration, I have voluntarily chaired three citizen advisory groups and task forces over the years. In short, I am anything but a public education opponent. With this background, it is nonetheless my view that throwing more money at this critical need has for many years yielded no benefit.

I urge the many dedicated educators within Caddo’s public education system to recognize the continuing decline of public support for our school system. That decline is certainly exacerbated by the levying of higher and higher public school property taxes on fewer and fewer property tax payers.

Elliott Stonecipher has worked in public policy for over 30 years, in both government and the private sector.  Since Hurricane Katrina, he has focused almost exclusively on pro bono work, including governmental ethics, population trends, reform of national policy governing the U. S. census and the Census Bureau, and unsustainable public debt.