BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - By a vote of 445 to 6, employees of East Baton Rouge Public Schools voted Tuesday night to walk out of work on Wednesday, October 31. The vote came during an “emergency meeting” called by four school employee unions. The action is a protest against industrial property tax exemptions.
However, on Wednesday afternoon, it was announced the walkout will be postponed since ExxonMobil requests for exemptions were never on the agenda for the Board of Commerce & Industry’s October 31 meeting.
“It was almost unanimous,” said Angela Reams-Brown, president of the EBR Federation of Teachers. “To have that many people say, ‘Yes, I’m willing to take a personal leave day. Yes, I’m willing to appear at a meeting on October 31, and yes, I think some changes need to be made.’”
Teachers and other district employees plan on using a personal day to attend a meeting of the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry. They want board members to vote against four tax exemptions requested by ExxonMobil. If approved by the Board of Commerce & Industry, the four exemption requests would then go before the EBR School Board, as well as the Metro Council and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
“We want to send a loud and clear message to our EBR school board members that when these exemptions come before you, we expect you to vote them down,” Reams-Brown said.
The school employee groups say the millions of dollars in property taxes could instead be used to boost pay, provide teaching materials and supplies, and renovate buildings.
In September, the school board voted unanimously to give ExxonMobil a tax break to expand their polyolefin plant in Baton Rouge. Some board members said they may be less supportive of future exemption requests under the state’s new ITEP rules.
ExxonMobil is applying for four more tax exemptions for projects that were completed in 2017.
Company spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile released the following statement after Tuesday night’s meeting, in response to the teachers deciding on the walkout:
We believe this meeting is another attempt by Together Baton Rouge to use citizens to promote their agenda. Together Baton Rouge, an Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate, continues to single out ExxonMobil. Although ExxonMobil is not the only company with pending 2017 ITEP applications and there is no current, local vote up for consideration.
In 2017, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge invested a total of $269 million. These 2017 projects helped create 26 jobs.
Only $122 million of the investment is eligible for ITEP under the new state rules. This represents a total potential abatement of $13.8 million over 10 years. Out of the total 2017 investment, we anticipate to generate $18.2 million in tax revenue. These ITEP applications are eligible under the newly approved ITEP rules, represent competitive capital investment and significant tax revenue for local jurisdictions.
ExxonMobil has not yet presented these ITEP applications to the LA Board of Commerce and Industry (BCI). Under the new state ITEP rules, the local jurisdictions will get a chance to review pending 2017 ITEP applications from ExxonMobil as well as other companies after they are presented to BCI.
EBR schools Superintendent Warren Drake also released a statement Tuesday night:
Drake says he would be meeting with his staff on Wednesday to prepare for a potential walkout. There are over 3,200 teachers in the district and around 5,900 full-time employees.