Some Lafayette Parish School System employees could stop receiving supplemental checks that have ranged in recent years from $1,200 to $2,100 and a readily available source for their pay raises if the School Board opts to cull the list of who’s eligible to receive pay boosts from dedicated since 2002 sales tax revenues.
The tax was approved by voters in fall 2001 as a way to pay for teacher raises. The sales tax plan also specified that excess revenues would be paid out annually by way of an additional check to eligible employees.
The tax plan also allows the revenue to be used for: salaries of classroom teachers involved in providing lower class size instruction or in providing extra instruction; incentive compensation for classroom teachers at high-poverty schools; professional development; and certain classroom salaries.
Those specifications have led to varied interpretations and the addition of other employees by prior School Board members, prompting the current board to ask staff to take another look at the eligibility criteria and make a recommendation to the board.
At its meeting Wednesday, the board may tackle the decision on who remains eligible.
“There’s a lot of conflict among employees about who should have it or who shouldn’t. It’s not good for morale overall,” board member Erick Knezek said.
A prior board approved the addition of audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists and ROTC instructors to the list of eligible employees, though additional jobs have been added without board approval, said Justin Centanni, who chairs the board’s Finance Committee.
Some employees remain on the list because they were grandfathered in after switching to new jobs that took them out of the classroom, he said.
Centanni has proposed options for implementing any changes, including either a phase-out of those who are deemed no longer eligible or a cold-turkey stop of the benefits. A third option would grandfather in all employees who currently receive the benefits, but the benefits would stop when those positions are vacated.
As a way to offer more clarity on eligibility, new job descriptions would state whether the position is eligible for the surplus tax proceeds, Centanni noted.
A decision on which employees are eligible is needed soon, said Rodolfo Espinoza, a Lafayette High teacher who is the president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators.
“Those employees have been basically in limbo long enough, and this issue needs to be decided as soon as possible because they have been waiting for several months,” Espinoza said.
He said his organization hasn’t taken a stance on which employee groups should be included or excluded, but the board should provide an equal supplement and raise from the general fund for those employees deemed no longer eligible to receive the surplus sales tax benefits.
“If staff determines an employee group doesn’t fit the definition, we encourage staff to match the supplement and raise with other funding sources,” Espinoza said.
In October, the board at that time approved a $1,000 salary increase using the surplus sales tax fund. In addition to the raise, eligible employees also received a supplemental check of about $1,200. The pay increase and supplemental check were paid from the $7.6 million in excess funds from the sales tax fund. If the board had not approved the salary increase, eligible employees would have received a one-time supplemental check of $2,538.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.