OUR VIEW: Vote for our teachers, our students

On April 29 – and sooner for those casting early ballots – voters will make known their view on two proposals regarding education.

The Lafourche Parish School District wants to sell $80 million worth of bonds to pay for construction and other costs that will keep schools running, build new buildings and renovate old ones. Other infrastructure needs will also be met. It is up to the school board members to be sure that the system is being kept on the right course. The Lafourche schools have proved their worth in terms of student performance and we have no doubt that they will continue to do so. This proposal will result in no tax increases.

The second proposal is for a one-cent sales tax to increase teacher salaries.

We are very selective about which issues before voters get support from us. In most cases we don’t express an opinion. Likewise, we very rarely endorse candidates for public office.

These proposals, however, after careful examination, are so worthy of support that we would be doing the communities we serve in Lafourche Parish a disservice by not appealing to all who read our words to join us in urging passage of both.

The bond issue is easy to support. The money needed for construction projects at two Thibodaux middle schools, a new cafeteria at South Larose and work related to athletic programs at schools throughout the district is needed, and not easily located elsewhere. With no increase to the taxes people pay on their property, there is no reason for anyone to oppose it.

The sales tax would result in an additional $14 million. In addition to closing a deficit of more than $5 million, the increase would bring in – overall – enough for raises, teachers and other professionals by $3,000 and non-professionals $2,000 annually.

That would close the pay gap between teachers in Terrebonne and Lafourche, allowing Lafourche to remain competitive. As a school district that consistently scores well in the eyes of the Louisiana Department of Education, the Lafourche district has earned the right to make such a request.

The sales tax would do more. It would offset planned cuts to local charter schools. Music education, maintaining nurses and librarians would be paid for.

The current sales taxes in Lafourche range from 9.65 percent to 10.4 percent, depending on jurisdiction.

That’s not good news for local business leaders. The local economic picture is bleak. People and businesses have been losing money because of the economic downturn. A higher sales tax is not going to benefit businesses directly, and this is why local business organizations are reluctant to support it.

Politically, many of our neighbors are reluctant to allow government agencies to draw more money, insisting that they make cuts whenever possible, that they do more with less. We cannot, we must not, in the absence of evidence that the school system has mismanaged money, satisfy ourselves with knowledge that we have not seen the writing on the wall and bowed to the needs of education,

The business community sees things differently.

They have their own financial interests and would probably oppose it at any time, but when local businesses and residents are hurting for cash in light of the oil downturn it can be particularly painful. Residents should choose to make the financial sacrifice to help the school district. Programs and staffing will be cut to make up $5 million deficit this year. The school district shouldn’t have to be cutting resources for students; they should be enhancing and expanding what they provide.

The school district is an A-class district and is high performing, and that’s a testament to many people, but a great contribution comes from the work of their teachers. They deserve more for their performance, and because teachers in general should be paid more, but it also makes sense to help the district retain its talent so it can continue performing well.

The calls for better government spending from those opposing the tax should be listened to even if it passes. Stewards of tax money should always look for areas they can find savings without damaging the quality of product they deliver to their constituents. The local chambers of Commerce and other worthy organizations, while opposed to the needed tax increase, could perhaps help out in other ways.

New taxes are never popular. But this one is paid across the board by everyone. It deserves passage by voters.