LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish School System teachers will receive a permanent salary bump of $1,000 and a one-time check of about $1,200 paid from the $7.6 million in excess funds from a sales tax fund dedicated to increasing teacher salaries.
Also receiving the raise are those employees whose salaries are paid using the teacher salary schedule — such as librarians, counselors, nurses, data analysts, instructional strategists and psychologists.
Excess monies from that tax fund are distributed annually to teachers and other eligible employees in a supplemental paycheck. By using a portion of the excess funds for the pay raise, teachers will still receive a supplemental, one-time check of about $1,200. Had the board not approved a pay raise, the full amount of the supplemental check would have been $2,538.
The raise takes effect in November, chief financial officer Billy Guidry said.
The board voted unanimously to adopt the pay raise after it rejected a recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Committee for a $500 salary increase and a one-time supplemental check of $1,891. The board rejected the committee recommendation in a 3-6 vote with board members Shelton Cobb, Mark Cockerham and Tommy Angelle voting in support of the $500 pay increase. Board members Greg Awbrey, Mark Babineaux, Kermit Bouillion, Hunter Beasley, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted against it, with Awbrey suggesting the board increase teacher salaries by $1,000 instead of $500.
Lafayette Parish Association of Educators President Rodolfo Espinoza, a member of the committee, said he thinks there would be “broad support among our teachers to include as much as possible into salaries. … We believe that it would prevent what we experienced this summer, which were multiple attempts at trying to divert those funds.”
Prior to the board’s vote, Awbrey asked board members to support the $1,000 pay increase to prevent future boards from using the tax fund to balance budget deficits.
The last time the surplus was rolled over into a pay raise — rather than a supplemental check — was about three years ago.
Earlier in the meeting, board members debated whether the district could afford the pay raise because some employee salaries are indexed to the teacher pay scale.
Guidry estimated a $200,000 financial impact on the general fund to pull up salaries of assistant principals and principals whose salaries are indexed with teacher salaries.
Superintendent Pat Cooper encouraged the board to consider pay increases for the district’s support workers, some of whom make less than $900 a month.
Awbrey said he didn’t think the board needs to consider other pay increases. Teachers will receive a pay boost one way or another and the board’s decision is whether it’s spread out over 12 months as a salary increase or in a one-time amount, he said.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the board set Oct. 14 for a hearing in which Cooper will have a chance to defend himself against claims he violated state law, board policies and his own contract. The claims stem from an investigation by attorney Dennis Blunt, at the request of the board, into some of Cooper’s management decisions.
Blunt shared an overview of his findings with the board in late August, but did not give board members a copy of the full report. Cobb requested the board vote to ask Blunt to release a copy of his final report despite the advice of Blunt and the board’s own general counsel, but only he, Cockerham and Bouillion voted for the release. Awbrey proposed that instead Beasley share a copy of the preliminary report he received from Blunt prior to the attorney’s presentation to the board. Awbrey’s suggestion received unanimous support and Beasley said he’ll email the preliminary report to board members Thursday.
The attorneys had told the board that the final report could prejudice the board prior to Cooper’s hearing because it contains information that isn’t pertinent to the charges against Cooper.
Also on Wednesday, some board members and Cooper debated terms of his contract following requests from Angelle for information about employee grievances related to pay for bus drivers and support workers.
Cooper cited a portion of his contract that requires board members to bring concerns and complaints to him and advised Angelle that he wouldn’t have answers for him because he needs to meet with the employees involved to receive more information. Cooper asked Angelle to follow protocol and bring complaints directly to him rather than place it on the agenda.
Chassion said Cooper had at least 24 hours advance notice of the issues because they were placed on the agenda. Awbrey said Cooper’s contract doesn’t stipulate that those concerns be brought to Cooper in private.
Angelle said his intention was only to share employees’ concerns and he did not expect responses Wednesday.
“I wasn’t trying to sneak up on anybody,” he said.
Guidry told Angelle that a courtesy call for requested information would prevent the need for an agenda item and allow staff time to research and gather information.
Trahan said she often feels that the public wants the question asked and answered publicly and the board’s meeting is the appropriate forum.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.