City officials on Tuesday evening approved a resolution to potentially hire an outside expert to look at the public school district’s budget to find $5 million worth of savings to prevent a potentially large property tax hike.
Council members without any opposition voted to solicit proposals to hire a consultant to audit the school district’s proposed fiscal year 2015-6 budget to verify whether the budget is in excess of the amount needed to efficiently operate city schools.
Purpose of hiring a consultant to review the district’s budget is to block the district from increasing its current tax levy from $39 million to $44 million.
“They need to first look at their budget, look into the operations, and trim the fat so that there would be no need to come to the city to bail them out of the financial hole that they dug themselves in,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman.
McKoy said city taxpayer cannot afford to subsidize the district’s “mismanagement.” He highlighted the lack of educational attainment in city schools. “The cost of operations seems to be escalating tremendously and the return has not been commensurate with that increase,” he said.
Other council members concurred with McKoy.
“The question is can we afford it? No we cannot afford it,” added Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. City taxpayers have no say in the district’s operation and are unwilling to fork up additional money for it, said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Morris has said the school board should be going to the state to find the needed funds to balance its budget. He said collecting an additional $5 million from city taxpayers is imprudent. “So you’re saying here’s $25 million in state aid, $2 million more than what you got lost year, but we may impose this $5 million additional fee on you through this school tax levy,” said Morris.
This is one of the reasons why the city needs to regain local control of its schools, said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. He said with local control city taxpayers would get an opportunity to accept or reject their schools budget.
From the outset mayor Jose “Joey” Torres took a stand against any tax increases coming out of the board of education. Torres suggested the school district either find the $5 million in its budget or he will help them find it.
Torres said the city will hire a former superintendent of schools to determine whether city schools have adequate funding to run their operations.
The council and the school board are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tonight to discuss the potential tax increase and its impact on property owners.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said the city’s finance director will have numbers which will highlight the impact a $5 million tax levy increase will have on individual taxpayers.