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Contributing Writer

Proponents of a March 26 St. Landry Parish School District property tax stressed the need for its approval Wednesday, while discrediting what they say is as a voter misinformation campaign being crafted by opponents of the three individual ballot initiatives.

Speakers during the event at Arpeggio’s in downtown Opelousas also emphasized the urgency for considering all three components of the tax which if approved, will add 23.9 mills to what property owners already pay for the costs of operating the District.

Absentee and early voting for the March 26 election is scheduled March 12-19.

Superintendent Patrick Jenkins told those who attended the meeting that the District needs 9.9 mills in funding from one part of the proposition in order to increase employees’ salaries.

Another separate tax of 1 mill on the same ballot will improve athletic facilities, while 12.9 mills also considered separately would fund a $150 million new school construction plan for four kindergarten-through-fourth grade elementary schools in Opelousas, Eunice, Lawtell and the southern end of the parish, Jenkins said.

Jenkins added the District has not constructed a new school in St. Landry since 1991. The majority of existing elementary schools Jenkins said, need renovation, while most elementary schools have inadequate restroom facilities that are student-accessed from the outside.

District 24 State Senator Gerald Boudreaux said improvements for the St. Landry schools are overdue.

“We haven’t done our job in the St. Landry Parish schools. It’s time to flip the script and not just talk about it. We need to put our money where our mouth is,” said Boudreaux, who represents a portion of St. Landry.

Parish President Jessie Bellard said the main question voters consider is transparency, or a clear indication about what the projected tax revenues actually fund.

“What’s most important is that we not let those who graduate from our schools leave and go somewhere else,” said Bellard, who said he supports the propositions.

District 40 State Representative Dustin Miller warned voters about allowing “false narratives” misdirect them.

Miller pointed to landlords who supposedly threatened renters that if they supported a similar 2018 District property tax proposition, the costs of monthly rents would increase.

Letitia Dartez, who represented the St. Landry Tax Assessor’s Office, said opponents of the tax are incorrect in saying property millage rates would increase between 40 and 70 percent annually if propositions are approved.

Dartez said Assessors’ Office calculations show passage of the propositions will cost property owners an average of $110 or $9.17 per month. “That’s the cost of a six pack of beer or a hamburger combo from McDonald’s,” Dartez said.

Jenkins said opponents have also incorrectly pointed out that the District can use $100 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding (ESSER) provided to the District in order to build new schools.

ESSER funding Jenkins said cannot be used for capital outlay projects, Jenkins said.

Also Jenkins warned that voters need to consider the accuracy of information designed to defeat the tax propositions.

“It’s not about what is being said. It’s about what it is the source?” Jenkins added.    

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