Industry taxes pay majority of schools’ bill

Pays 80 percent of property, 65 percent of sales taxes

Michelle Stuckey
February 18, 2011 at 10:56 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

When compared to other schools across the state, it may seem like St. Charles Parish Public Schools collect much more in local tax revenue. But school officials say that such comparisons can be misleading because of state and federal funding levels and the large contribution of local industries.

St. Charles collected about $16,700 per student in property taxes and sales taxes for 2008-2009, making it the third highest local revenue collection in the state behind Cameron and Iberville parishes. Revenue figures for the 2009-2010 year have not been released.

Jim Melohn, chief financial and administrative officer for the district, said that local industry, such as Dow and Valero, account for 80 percent of what the school system collects in property taxes and about 65 percent of what they collect in sales taxes.

St. Charles Parish residents are contributing $3,034 per student to the school system, well below the state average of $4,550. That amounts to an average of $250 in property taxes and $390 in sales taxes paid per resident to public schools, says Melohn.

Additionally, Melohn said that St. Charles receives on average $2,000 less per student from the state in funding and about $300 less per student in federal funding than other parishes in Louisiana and has to compensate through local revenue.

“The state funding formula is calculated to reward poorer parishes because they cannot generate local revenue,” Melohn said. “The state calculates wealth based on the taxable assessed value of the parish.”

But Melohn said that the School Board and administration work hard to make sure all locally-earned dollars are well spent.

He said that the average teacher salary in St. Charles is more than $3,500 higher than the state average, accounting for about $3.5 million in expenses each year.

“We want to attract the best and brightest teachers so we do that in the salary schedule,” he said.

He also said that the district has a lower teacher-student ratio than the state average. In St. Charles there are about 12 students per teacher, and the state average is about 15 students per teacher.

Technology is another strong point.

“One thing that is very important in St. Charles Parish is technology. In the parish we have a 2.6-to-1 ratio of pupils to computers - the state average is 4.5-to-1,” Melohn said. “That doesn’t even include the fact that the Satellite Center has a 1-to-1 ratio. Every student in the Satellite Center has a laptop.”

Rochelle Cancienne-Touchard, director of public information for the district, said that the resources available to students, such as the Satellite Center and Court School, are more than what is offered in most districts.

“(With Court School) we’re keeping these kids off the streets and putting them into structured environments where they can continue to be monitored and continue their school work so they won’t lag behind,” Cancienne-Touchard said.

She also said that the Satellite Center is an important career and college preparatory facility that would have been expensive to house at both high schools individually.

“(The Satellite Center) is allowing our students to walk out of high school…into their secondary choice of education or into positions, heads and shoulders above their peers,” she said. “It really is just an absolutely wonderful opportunity for these students.”

In order to pay for the extra opportunities given to local students, St. Charles schools collected about $5,000 more than the state average in total revenue for 2008-2009, and collected about twice as much as the state average in local revenue.

But Melohn said that 2008-2009 was an unusual year as far as collecting taxes locally.

“That was the highest sales tax collection in the history of the parish. If the 2010 numbers (were available), that local revenue would have dropped by $7 million - that was a very unusual year.

“So if you look at that on a per-student basis, that would be a $734 decrease in revenues per student for 2010.”

He also said that because of the revenues that the school district takes in and uses wisely, the schools do not have to lay people off while other parishes have found themselves in that position.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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