During a special strategic planning session with West Feliciana Parish School Board members, district supervisors, administrators and representatives of the high school on March 26, Superintendent Hollis Milton recommended the district unfreeze employee salaries.

Milton told the participants at the special meeting that unfreezing the salaries was his highest priority for the 2015-16 school year budget. The board will vote on the recommendation at its April 28 meeting.

“Our employees are the difference-makers for our students, parents and community,” Hollis told the board. “They work very hard and this would show that we appreciate them. We are as strong as our ability to recruit and retain the best employees.”

Milton said the total cost of lifting the salary freeze is $238,512, with $187,975 for salaries plus $50,537 for additional retirement and Medicare contributions. On average, employees will receive a $400 increase in salary.

He said the school district is able to fund the plan because one of the parish’s supervisors, Al Lemoine, is retiring this summer and the central office leadership team will be restructured to absorb Lemoine’s duties. That will save approximately $100,000.

In addition, Milton said the district wrote and received a state grant for LA4, which provides funding for prekindergarten. That will provide an additional $137,000 and the system can reapply for the grant each year. Any gap between the additional funding and the cost of unfreezing salaries will be absorbed through the budget.

Milton also said all teachers will receive stipends of $180 if the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recommendation of a 1.375 percent increase in Minimum Foundation Program funding is approved by the state Legislature during this spring’s legislative session. He said teachers also will receive an effectiveness stipend in the Fall depending on how they were rated in the evaluation system — amounts ranging from $150 to $350.

However, Milton said, employees with more than 25 years of service, about 40 total, will not see an increase in salary in the fall.

“I told the board, ‘This group is just as dedicated to our vision for children, so I would like to show them that we appreciate their efforts,’ ” Milton said.

At the strategic meeting, Milton identified the second highest priority as maintaining the parish’s literacy program that has been funded through a federal grant called Striving Leaders Comprehensive Literacy. That funding is scheduled to go away after the 2015-16 school year.

“We believe that there may be other opportunities such as new grants, more restructuring, and additional state dollars to keep a majority of the program in place,” Milton said. “The literacy grant funds are approximately $1 million to our school system. We have had the grant for two years and we will have it for at least one more year.”

At its March meeting, the board approved a 34 percent pay increase for Milton in his new four-year contract, moving him from 43rd among the state’s superintendents to No. 21. According to district data, teachers are currently ranked in the top 10 in salary, and custodians, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, principals and supervisors rank in the top 20 when comparing the state’s 70 school districts.