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11.2.19

Recent events make Bossier tax tough sell

Now may not be the greatest time for the Bossier Parish School District to ask voters to increase taxes on themselves.

Last month, the School Board voted to put on the May 4 ballot a measure that would jack up property taxes by over 26 mils, in two separate votes. One would add $7,200 to every teacher’s yearly pay, and the other would jack up salaries for ancillary employees by $3,000 annually.

Then-superintendent Scott Smith argued area districts could offer more in salary, despite other remunerative avenues where Bossier could compete. In fact, while Bossier base teacher pay ranks 45th statewide according to the latest data (academic year 2016), problematically all districts surrounding Bossier pay much better (largely courtesy of oil and gas royalties): Caddo ranks 17th, DeSoto 1st, Red River 2nd, Bienville 6th, and Webster 7th.

But Bossier voters may hesitate to make this commitment, in part because, all other jurisdictions remaining equal (and some won’t with their own items on ballots in March and May), the total property tax burden paid by a Bossier Parish resident would rise from 17th to 9th highest among the parishes. Plus, residents have every reason to lack confidence in the district’s leadership.

Last year, authorities arrested School Board District 5 member Mike Mosura for conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids (disclosure: although he graduated with a degree in general studies, Mosura took several of my classes while majoring in political science at LSUS). He has pled not guilty and awaits trial.

Last week, Smith resigned as superintendent. He also faces scrutiny over violating federal drug laws, currently under investigation for illegally receiving prescription-only, anti-anxiety drugs. His lawyer noted that Smith, who has gone into a rehabilitation facility, has faced extreme pressure in his job, specifically over allegations of a teacher molesting students, student protests during the National Anthem at school events, and working out a consent agreement to prevent First Amendment violations in the schools.

Regrettably, Smith didn’t seem to know what he got into when he took the top job and apparently cracked under pressure. The Board named Mitch Downey as interim leader last week.

That happened a couple of weeks after the decision to seek higher taxes, which may make for the icing on a cake for defeat of that desire. The controversies that seem to drive Smith from his post, his departure and Mosura’s legal woes, and the generally overtaxed condition of Bossier residents make the hikes a tougher sell. These will pass only with a lot of convincing explanations by the district.

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