Terrebonne Parish School Board approves tax exemptions for two area businesses; student addresses need for virtual honors courses

Yesterday evening, the Terrebonne Parish School Board approved industrial ad valorem tax exemptions for Gulf Island Shipyards and K&B Machine Works. 


An ad valorem tax is based on the value of a transaction or property. 


There were three exemptions for Gulf Island on the agenda for three different projects, board member Clyde Hamner explained. 


Annette Foret-LaGarde, President of the Terrebonne Association of Educators, voiced opposition to each of the motions and asked the board to reconsider granting the tax exemptions. “Mr. [Philip] Martin had stated earlier in the month of July that so much money was lost in sales tax revenue, so this money could be used to replenish the sales tax revenue that we lost,” she said. 


Board member Matthew Ford — who expressed that he was voting on behalf of his constituency, not himself — was the only member who objected to the motions. 


K&B had one industrial ad valorem tax exemption on the agenda. 


Board member Roger DeHart gave sentiments before the vote, saying that the state had the opportunity grant exemptions without the board’s knowledge. “We have the pleasure handed down to us to consider items that affect our area,” he said. 


DeHart said every dollar does count, but with the “few dollars” that they are exempting right now, the district will get “trifold by having employees have jobs in Terrebonne Parish.” 


DeHart also noted the importance of Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) dollars. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, under MFP, Louisiana annually adopts a formula to equitably allocate funding for education to school districts.


“For every student of those employers that are in the Terrebonne Parish Public School System, we get MFP dollars,” DeHart said. “Whenever we have a drop in population because of lost jobs, we lose a lot more revenue than what we’re doing tonight.” 


Ford said K&B has been a “presence in the community” and charitable. “However, we are still in need of revenue in this district,” he said. 


“…They’re passing the buck,” Ford later continued. “You’re [DeHart] saying that their employees are going to go buy a house and pay taxes, buy a car and pay taxes. So the employer is saying, ‘We’re not going to pay taxes, but it’s okay for you to go pay taxes.’ They’re not setting a good example.” 


Ford also addressed the MFP funds: “If we have a loss of students, we have a loss of MFP, but we’re serving less students. So the MFP is not the only funding we get. In fact, the parish spends more money per student than MFP. So when our ratio drops, the money per student actually goes up with the less MFP.” 


The motion to grant the tax exemption passed with one objection, which was from Ford. 


Also at the meeting, 16-year-old Malory Solet, an honor student at Ellender Memorial High School, asked the board to add honors courses to the online platform. 


According to the Terrebonne Parish School District (TPSD) FAQ page, honors and AP (advanced placement) courses will not be offered through virtual learning. 


Solet highlighted a petition she started to add honors classes to the virtual learning platform. She said the over 150 people who signed the petition “passionately disagree with this injustice, and ask you to reverse the decision and allow students to not forfeit our hard work for the last few years while protecting ourselves and families from the risk of COVID-19.” 


Solet also cited sources supporting the arguments that children are susceptible to COVID-19 and honors classes attribute to students being more productive. 


“…My classmates and my education should not be limited because of a public health crisis. My classmates and I should not have to choose between safety and our education, simply because of a refusal on behalf of the school district to accommodate students in honors classes,” Solet later added. “So in conclusion, my classmates and I plead with you to offer honors classes in the virtual learning platform.” 


Martin told the Times on Wednesday afternoon that TPSD will offer honors classes through Edgenuity AP courses.