This Saturday, we go to the polls to vote on renewals for taxes that we currently pay but are set to expire. Many of us in the city and most of the parish must decide on what we think is best for our families, as well as the community in which we live. I am not going to try to tell anyone how to vote, because it’s your money and you can decide where to spend or invest it. But I will explain how I see the choices and share how I will vote.
City of Baton Rouge millage for police department: YES
Since 1958 the city has collected a 0.87 mill property tax that generates $1.7 million for the Baton Rouge Police Department. Its validity has been challenged by the legislative auditor, who is now in court claiming it was added without a vote. Because of this challenge, we get to vote on this decades-old millage that will “enable the City of Baton Rouge to provide a three-platoon police system in the Police Department”—and already has for years.
With the serious concerns over crime, a loss of these established funds would just make the job more difficult for our officers. We all know the importance of public safety to our quality of life. For my family, I will vote YES to make this existing millage official.
Educational Facilities Improvement District: YES
I hope we all can agree that creating good schools for children is critical to building a strong community and attracting jobs. But it is not easy—and I wouldn’t want East Baton Rouge Public School System Superintendent Warren Drake’s job for any salary. He has to care for more than 40,000 students every day. Drake grew up here, and he cares about this community. He knows the value of leadership and has replaced 29 principals. EBR now has 16 charters and more are coming. We don’t always agree, but he has to deal with a few bad board members and unions that would drive me nuts.
This vote involves a one-penny sales tax renewal that is divided into three areas. You have to vote on each.
In the Prop. 1 plan, there are 29 projects, and seven of those are closings and removals of schools. They will combine six schools into three for efficiencies. They will build six new schools with a number of those in south Baton Rouge (long overdue). I like the fact they will close and consolidate locations—and build new schools where the population is going. And they will add 21st-century technology for our students to learn with.
Drake told me, “We must also be proactive in addressing students having problems in school. We can’t let one child disrupt a classroom. We need to help them. We need to involve the parents.” He says that is what Prop. 2 for truancy and discipline is about. “This plan will be significantly different from what we have done.” They plan to combine the current six alternative schools into three locations. Another wise move.
The final part, Prop. 3, will simply maintain the funds going to pay teachers and staff, and keep us competitive with other school systems in the Capital Region. Currently we are behind West Baton Rouge and Zachary, about the same as Ascension, and a little above Livingston. Losing this millage would drop average teacher pay about $4,000 annually.
As most who read this column know, I have been an advocate for school choice and competition in EBR for years—and that includes some bitter battles with the school board, teachers unions and past board members, like Rep. Pat Smith, who all harmed children and this community. But we have to move on and realize that 40,000 children attend EBR public schools. They are innocent and deserve a good education. And while my dream would be for Baton Rouge to be like New Orleans, which is all public charters, private or vouchers, that is not likely to happen soon. So, we must keep these children in mind and ask what is best for them now.
Some will say it’s a lost cause, but we can’t give up. I know some of you have. But I am still an optimist and feel if we give up on our kids, then they lose—and we do too. I can’t accept that.
So I will keep the faith and vote to renew all three millages in Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Be sure to cast your vote.
Who pays the price?
One day in early April, all lanes of Interstate 12 were blocked between Essen Lane and Airline Highway because the driver of a tree-trimming truck failed to lower the arm of his boom and pulled down power lines that fell across the road. This self-inflicted traffic nightmare caused by an Arbortech Tree Service employee got him citations for careless operation and roadway hazard cleanup from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
But what about the cost to the sheriff’s office and BRPD, who handled traffic, and DPW, who did the cleanup? What about Entergy, Cox and EATEL, who had to replace lines? And businesses that lost power and workers who couldn’t get to their jobs and lost wages? Not to mention the inconvenience to all residents and travelers? Who pays for all of these losses when there is a clear case of negligence? This is no simple case of “oops.” (And the same goes for 18-wheeler drivers who flip their rigs and dump their loads, blocking the interstate.) The cost is high to others.
I checked on this recent power line case and it appears that there is no fine in law for “reckless operation.” But for “roadway hazard cleanup” the state statute states, “Whenever a motor vehicle crash or incident results in a roadway hazard that requires an extraordinary commitment of public safety resources by the responding agencies to cleanup or remove the hazard, the vehicle owner or operator who is issued a citation for a traffic violation at the scene of the crash or incident shall reimburse the responding agencies for the extraordinary cost of the cleanup.”
There had to be some serious costs from this incident, and they should be borne by the vehicle owner, not the taxpayers. I would expect all public agencies to get reimbursed.
Support Thrive Academy
I am a fan of Sarah Broome and Thrive Academy. I know the heart she has for serving children that most have given up on.
Thrive Academy was founded in 2011 by Broome, a 26-year-old Teach for America alumna who wanted to create a school that would serve all the needs of her students. As a teacher in EBR, Sarah Broome, had one of her students die to violence. She decided she must do something to make a difference.
Broome says, “At THRIVE, we embrace the idea that all children can learn.” Thrive Academy is a free, college preparatory, public boarding school for grades six through twelve in Baton Rouge, serving at-risk youth. The mission of THRIVE is to empower students from underserved communities in La. and prepare them academically and personally for life, success in college and beyond.
The challenge at THRIVE is a tough one, but already showing progress and success.
THRIVE currently goes through 11thgrade and serves 160 students. It will have its first graduating class of 20 seniors in 2019. The students live there 5 days a week and go home on weekends.
I ask you to take a minute to visit the THRIVE web site at thriveBR.org and watch the video. I am involved with their current “Cap and Gown Campaign” to support these students and ask you to consider helping too. THRIVE is changing lives.