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Sunday, May 19, 2019



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Teacher pay raise gains traction

Teacher pay raise gains traction

With both the governor and House on board, local schools and education advocates believe teachers and support staff will see their first state-financed raises in years come 2019-20.

Of the 69 school districts, Terrebonne Parish ranked 24th in average classroom teacher salary at $50,427 for 2017-18. Lafourche Parish’s average salary was $4,000 less and ranked No. 45, on the cusp of the bottom third in the state.

The superintendents for both Terrebonne and Lafourche schools have cited their full support for the raises, saying they’re much-needed and well-deserved.

Terrebonne Parish schools Superintendent Philip Martin said the teachers start to fall behind when compared to other southern states.

“Like in anything you have to be competitive and certainly this will help,” said Martin.

Lafourche Parish schools Superintendent Louis Voiron also highlighted that the state’s inclusion of money to cover the retirement program associated with the raises would ease the burden on parishes as well.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux said she believed it had been more than a decade since support staff had seen a raise from the state. Meaux and Voiron commended the state on including support staff, as they’re also key parts to the educational landscape.

“We are a family,” said Meaux. “The support personnel make it possible for the teachers to do their jobs in the classrooms.”

Whether the raise will be permanent remains a question after the House sent the proposed school funding formula back to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.

BESE is the administrative body charged with creating policy and regulations for operating schools.

Currently, the Louisiana’s House of Representatives has a $1,000 raise for teachers and $500 raise for support staff included in its budget as a special appropriation to schools. The special appropriation would come from outside the formula set by BESE to guide state aid for schools.

The formula is called the minimum foundation program, or MFP.

BESE’s proposed formula was unanimously approved and included continued money for the raises in the form of a 1.375-percent increase in state aid to school districts on a per pupil basis. The House returned the proposal with a recommendation to remove that increase.

Meaux said there’s no guarantee for future money if the raise isn’t included in that formula. The House would have to vote to include the money each budget season.

“It has put everything at risk,” said Meaux. “We want the increases to be permanent and not just something that we get as a one-time stipend.”

Should the state remove the special appropriation in a future budget, Meaux said the responsibility would fall onto the school districts to find the local revenue to maintain the raise.

“Many of our school districts can’t make up the difference in what doesn’t come from the states,” she said.

She pointed to parishes like Terrebonne and Lafourche, stating they don’t have the tax base to generate the revenue necessary to pay the raise on their own.

With the parish’s depressed economy, Voiron said Lafourche’s school district wouldn’t have another source for the money.

“Right now, it needs to come from the state level. We’ve had some struggles the last couple of years with local revenues,” he said.

Voiron and Martin supported the 1.375-percent increase in the MFP for school districts but understood that the state’s financial considerations.

“I understand there are concerns about revenue estimating and sustainability,” said Voiron. “But if the numbers indicate that the revenue will be there and it will be sustainable in the future then I think it should be included.”

BESE President Gary Jones said it wasn’t unusual for the House to return the board’s proposal.

“We go through this dance every year,” said Jones. “We think we sent over a good formula in the first place.”

BESE board member Sandy Holloway, whose district includes Terrebonne and Lafourche, echoed Jones, stating the proposal’s return was just a part of the process.

“I believe strongly that teachers and support staff in our schools should receive more pay for the important work they do,” said Holloway. “A funding increase is needed for our local school districts to meet ever-increasing budget requirements.”

She said she felt the board’s proposal addressed those needs.

Jones and Holloway said BESE will schedule a special meeting in the next few weeks to determine if any action will be taken on the House’s recommendations.

Jones said it will give board members the chance to speak with their constituents before reconvening.

When a decision is made, the formula will start the review process again, starting in the House education committee.

A decision on adopting a proposed formula will have to be made by the end of the legislative session on June 6.