Imagine purchasing your dream car, with all the bells and whistles, but never changing the oil. Before you knew it, the engine would burn up, and the car would be rendered useless. That’s essentially what is threatening our newly built and renovated public school facilities, which have been brought up to national standards with $2 billion in FEMA and insurance proceeds. The looming problem is that the Orleans Parish School Board does not have, nor has it ever had, dedicated revenue to maintain its buildings. That is why our schools were in such deplorable condition prior to Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches.
I authored Act 543 to give New Orleanians the opportunity to vote on a proposition to re-direct an existing bond millage to the preservation and maintenance of our public school buildings. It is NOT a new tax. The purpose of this legislation is to make sure funds are dedicated to maintaining our school facilities for generations without raising taxes. This is a commonsense approach to meeting an obligation to our children, who we would be failing if we allowed our public schools to fall back into disrepair.
The funding can only be used for maintenance and a number of oversight mechanisms have been built into Act 543. Each school will have to create a maintenance plan, and the funds could only be spent in accordance with these plans. Additionally, new facilities offices will be created to inspect and monitor buildings to ensure that they are being maintained. If a school is not compliant, the facilities office will step in, and the school’s ability to access maintenance funds may be suspended or terminated.
Whether they attend charter, OPSB or Recovery School District operated schools, we owe it to our children to support this proposition. The money will be dedicated to school campuses, and whichever entity is governing a school will administer the funds. If governance changes, so too would administration of the money. Our community may have an ongoing discussion about how our schools are governed. We may disagree about policies and politics. But we all can agree to rally behind our students. That is why I encourage you to vote “yes” on the school maintenance proposition on the Dec. 6 ballot.
Walter “Walt” J. Leger III
State Representative, District 91
Speaker Pro Tempore, Louisiana House of Representatives