LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish teachers could get a $1,000 annual salary boost instead of the annual one-time salary supplement this year, if the School Board agrees to the proposal.
Board member Greg Awbrey, during Wednesday’s board meeting, floated the idea of raising salaries instead of issuing a one-time check this year from excess revenues from a dedicated tax fund. Awbrey requested the board discuss a salary increase at its Oct. 1 meeting.
Revenues from a 2002 half-cent sales tax help pay for annual step increases of about $460 and other expenses related to lowering class sizes and to professional development. Excess revenues from the tax fund are distributed among teachers and other employees, such as librarians and counselors, in a supplemental paycheck in October.
In recent years, that extra check has ranged from $1,500 to last year’s $2,100.
The last time teachers received a permanent salary boost of $1,000 — in lieu of an extra paycheck — was three years ago, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said during Wednesday’s board meeting.
Guidry was unavailable for comment Thursday, so it’s unclear how much another pay boost would cost.
Guidry told the board Wednesday that this year, teachers likely would receive an extra check of at least $2,100.
The intention of the 2002 teacher tax was to increase teacher salaries to the state and Southern average, but the supplemental pay isn’t helping the district grow in salary rankings because that payment is not part of a teacher’s salary, board member Rae Trahan said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Guidry told her it’s difficult to determine where Lafayette falls in the salary rankings because supplemental pay isn’t factored in, and, like Lafayette, other districts offer supplemental checks based on tax revenues. The parish’s ranking fluctuates between 20th and 25th among nearly 70 school districts, Guidry said.
“When the tax was first passed, (Lafayette) was in the top 10,” Guidry told the board.
On Thursday, Awbrey said he’d like to see the tax revenues boost teachers’ salaries.
“Now that the check is over $2,000 a year, we need to roll over $1,000 per year into their salary,” Awbrey said. “In the end, as long as the money is going to the teachers, I’m happy. This is a way to make sure that it’s not going to be spent on other things.”
Awbrey said the tax typically is pitched as a potential revenue source to cover teacher salaries or other related instructional expenses from professional development to additional teacher slots.
In the past few months, as the district attempted to balance a $23.5 million shortfall, Superintendent Pat Cooper and staff proposed using the excess revenues from the half-cent sales tax fund to cover some teacher salaries to help maintain lower class sizes.
“It’s not just Pat Cooper. Every administration has tried to do it,” Awbrey said. “The bigger the check gets at the end of the year, they want to use it for this or for that. This is a way to protect the money that should be going to the teachers.”
Adding the extra revenue to salaries is a “move to honor the intent of the tax,” said Rodolfo Espinoza, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators.
“If we’re going to fulfill the long-term goal, which is to maintain Lafayette salaries at a high level, then we need to put it into salaries and create a plan that’s going to accomplish that,” Espinoza said.
He added that discussions with Guidry will determine what’s financially feasible for the district. Espinoza said if teacher pay is increased, it will have a financial impact on principals’ salaries, which are indexed according to teachers’ salaries.
“Currently, when we get the surplus check, it’s not salary, so there would be no adjustment to principals’ salaries,” he said. “We have to figure out what the tax surplus can afford.”
In Lafayette Parish, the starting pay for a teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree is $40,427 a year.
Pay is higher based on years of experience and for advanced degrees.
Employees also receive annual step increases of about $465, and based on state law enacted in July 2012, teachers also receive merit pay raises based on their evaluations.
In Lafayette, merit pay raises range from $465 to $1,000 a year.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.