Williamson’s Notes: What is the value of our children’s future?

This Saturday, May 4, voters in Jefferson Parish will provide a response to the title question as they cast their votes in the Jefferson Parish Schools’ educator pay raise millage election. Before you answer the question yourself, I’d like to share my thoughts on the tax measure.

Let’s get the facts and figures out of the way first. The proposed 7.9 mils would raise the teacher’s base pay by $3,625 and provide support staff with a living wage. The Bureau of Governmental Research points out that, in simple terms, “the owner of a homestead-exempt property valued at the parishwide average home sale price of $224,000 would pay $117.71 more in property taxes per year” to cover the cost of the pay increase. 

At a time when more households than ever are living paycheck to paycheck – 1 in 2 households in Jefferson, give or take – it’s easy to understand that even a $10-per-month bump in taxes would be a stretch for many budgets. But we’ll never reduce the number of individuals struggling to get by if we don’t begin to make investments in the quality of our education systems. 

The Jefferson Parish public school system is losing teachers by the hundreds each year and witnessing a correlated decline in student achievement. It dropped to a C ranking in 2018, and its 71.8% high school graduation rate ranks 61st out of 69 school districts in Louisiana. Other key indicators of success are suffering too. 

The lack of a basic education has repercussions parishwide, not just for those missing out, including lower tax revenues, greater public spending on safety-net programs, and higher crime rates. Furthermore, many of the school system’s own employees are unable to make ends meet, which results in immediate and long-term consequences for their households and our community. 

I applaud Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley and his team’s commitment to developing a comprehensive plan for bringing the pay raise to the public. With its successful passage, more certified teachers will stay in the system, more children will receive a quality education, and all system employees will earn a living wage. It’s hard to argue against that. 

Please consider supporting Jefferson Parish Schools’ teachers and support staff this Saturday. I trust you will see value in this modest investment in our education system, our children, and our community. 

Remember, we only have one life to live. To live better, we must Live United. 

 

Michael Williamson

President & CEO

United Way of Southeast Louisiana

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