On October 14th, as New Orleanians, we will have the chance to ensure our city’s schools have the funding to maintain safe and up-to-date buildings for our students. We have the choice to vote on whether or not to renew a millage that has supported schools for a decade already. This vote won’t raise current tax rates. You can read more about it in the Bureau of Governmental Research’s (BGR) recent report, linked here.
Because the vote affects our students and our schools, we’ve provided a short overview of the millage and what it means.
The School Facilities Preservation Millage
In 2014, the people of New Orleans passed the School Facilities Preservation Millage. A millage is a unit of measurement for determining property tax amounts; millages are used to calculate property taxes. Property taxes are often used to fund key community services, like fire departments and schools.
Back in 2014, New Orleans’ public schools were still being rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. While a historic $2 billion in FEMA funding covered much of the costs, the district knew there would be ongoing need for school facilities preservation and repair. While school buildings are meant to last decades, they require ongoing maintenance, and often require larger-scale repairs every five to seven years. The district therefore proposed a millage that would provide funds for ten years. New Orleans’ voters saw how important this was and passed the millage in 2014. (This millage replaced a long-standing millage dedicated to paying off old school board debt from many years before.)
Now, as 2024 approaches, the millage is up for renewal. A millage renewal is not an increase on a tax rate or a new tax. It’s simply an extension of the existing rate for the same purpose.
Security and sustainability for 20 years
This time, voters would approve the millage for twenty years instead of ten. This would allow for more comprehensive planning that ensures the sustainability of our school buildings. It’s simply part of the cycle of effective stewardship and planning for a school district. The millage funds support both urgent and emergency repairs–like replacing a roof after a hurricane, or calling the HVAC repair team when the AC goes out–and more regular maintenance. Many buildings require significant repairs at certain “milestones”–between 2025-2045, many of the buildings the district invested in over the last decade will reach those milestones. They’ll be up for significant repairs of major building components, such as replacements of roofs, HVACs and windows.
Continuing the millage protects not only the investment from the last ten years, but also the investment from the $2 billion in FEMA funding that went to rebuilding and repairing schools after Hurricane Katrina. It allows the district to plan more efficiently for the future, too. With a millage that allows them to predict funding for two decades ahead, the district can better ensure the sustainability of our buildings for future generations.
What this means for New Orleans’ classrooms
Today, our children are learning in beautiful, up-to-date buildings. Many are historic structures that retain distinctive original details and facades. Our schools have stunning new science labs, libraries, educational kitchens, gyms, gardens, auditoriums, and arts spaces. These are the types of facilities our children need and deserve. They drive learning, and they also show students the type of care and respect we have for them as a community.
New Orleans Public Schools (NOLA-PS) has been a strong steward of our city’s school buildings as they’ve made these renovations and cared for them. The district manages school facilities, which is a critical form of support for our schools. School buildings are built to last, but they experience continued wear and tear. For far too long, our school buildings needed a great deal of work. Teachers struggled to be heard over old, loud HVAC systems, if they had HVAC systems at all. Students couldn’t see out of scratched plexiglass windows. Ceilings leaked.
But schools will always require ongoing maintenance to stay in strong working order. Our district has been using funds efficiently and thoughtfully to make repairs, but they need continued funding to keep schools in the condition our children deserve. A millage could provide that funding.
A few years ago, NSNO spoke with Neil Williams, who was the Director of Facilities and Maitenance at FirstLine Schools. He shared why he was focused on ensuring school facilities stayed in good working order.
“There are a lot of factors that contribute to why students have trouble learning…so any facet of the day, that could potentially disrupt like that positive experience? My focus is on getting it fixed…The light buzzes when I turn it on? My outlet blinks on and off? Or my speakers are fuzzy? As a kid, I was easily distracted. And something like that will detract from the lesson for me. If I can hear that buzzing feedback from the smartboard speaker, that’s what I’m thinking about. So it’s big and small, just making sure the environment is as conducive as possible,” he told us.
Our district has committed to creating that conducive learning environment for all our students. They work hard to preserve our beautiful new buildings, and they need the funds to keep doing so. Even small shifts, Williams pointed out when we interviewed him, can make a big difference.
“Every year, we make whatever minor adjustments we need, and at the end of the day, when things are defective and old, we don’t keep relics of deterioration,” he said. “My attempt is to send a signal to them that we care about the environment around them.”
The high quality buildings in our district help show our students we believe in them.
On October 14, the people of New Orleans will get to decide whether or not to continue investing in those facilities. Their vote provides funds to teams like Williams,’ and will help ensure students get to learn in environments that are safe, clean, and well maintained.