New Lafayette board to learn the basics at orientation session _lowres

Justin Centanni, Lafayette Parish School Board District 6

The Lafayette Parish School Board decided Wednesday to trim the number of employees who are eligible to receive salary boosts from sales tax revenues dedicated for teacher salaries.

The board’s work to cull the list is based on financial responsibility to taxpayers and is not a reflection of the value of an employee’s job, board finance chairman Justin Centanni said.

“What it is a vote on is which fund we pay your salary from,” Centanni said.

Voters approved a half-cent sales tax in fall 2001 that took effect months later; its proceeds are referred to as the 2002 sales tax fund. The tax was pushed as a way to boost classroom teacher pay. Since then, other employee categories have been added to the tax fund, a situation that some board members say has created dissent among eligible and non-eligible employees. Excess revenue from the tax is paid out in an extra check paid to eligible employees that has ranged from $1,200 to more than $2,000 in recent years.

Board members asked staff to review eligibility requirements and make a recommendation on which employees don’t meet the criteria. As defined, regular and special education teachers who are engaged in direct or regular instruction of students — including librarians, assessment teachers, speech therapists and counselors — are eligible for the 2002 sales tax benefits.

The staff also recommended including academic interventionist, alternative to regular placement, at-risk intervention itinerant teacher, elementary physical education coach, intervention teacher, special education community skills program facilitator, special education facilitator, support teacher for special education, distance learning teacher, teacher-tutor and ROTC instructors. As of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the board had not made a decision on that recommendation.

Crisis intervention teacher Kelly Sonnier criticized staff’s recommendation to exclude the position from the 2002 sales tax fund, saying her job description is outdated and she provides direct services to troubled students.

“We’re all doing more with less,” she told the board. “If I don’t get it, I understand. I’m a classroom teacher first, and then I’m a crisis intervention teacher. Fair is fair, but if someone with an almost identical job description is eligible, then I should be.”

Early childhood education supervisor Christine Duay asked the board to consider retaining early childhood resource coordinators on the list because they are teachers who work directly with teachers to impact student instruction. Duay told the board that many of the employees considered for exclusion from the 2002 sales tax fund are the district’s best teachers who were pulled from the classroom because of their talent.

“Maybe they don’t have a class roster every day, but it becomes an injustice to say ‘You’re a great teacher and I want you to come out of the classroom to impact 750 kids instead of 24, but I want you to do it for a pay decrease,’ ” Duay said.

Centanni told her that all employees deserve the supplemental check and the board is attempting to “honor the intent of the voters who dedicated this funding stream.”

He added that the board’s decision would not mean that employees wouldn’t receive raises or supplemental pay.

“We just can’t give it to them from this money right here,” he said of the 2002 sales tax fund.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the board voted 7-1 to exclude the following positions from the 2002 sales tax fund: academic and behavior coordinators, curriculum coordinator, district data liaison, instructional coaches, central office English as a Second Language staff and screeners, Existing Pathways coordinator, academic interventionist, focus teacher, graduation coach, hearing impaired coordinator, instructional content coach, lead teachers, school improvement strategist, GEAR UP coach, technology curriculum coordinator, audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists.

Board member Tehmi Chassion voted against while board members Elroy Broussard, Centanni, Britt Latiolais, Dawn Morris, Tommy Angelle, Erick Knezek and Jeremy Hidalgo supported the exclusion of the employees. Board member Mary Morrison was absent from the meeting.

The board decided to discuss and take separate votes on some positions recommended by staff for exclusion and as of 8:30 p.m. had retained the position of dyslexia diagnostician as an eligible position.

The board had not yet voted on whether to exclude speech pathologists, data analysts, instructional strategists, crisis intervention teachers, 504 dyslexia diagnosticians, secondary academic and behavior interventionists and early childhood resource coordinator.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.