Teachers in Pointe Coupee Parish are pushing the School Board for higher pay — something the educators say would reverse the district’s high turnover rate.

While board members agree the district’s faculty and staff are underpaid, the fly in the ointment is finding the additional dollars needed for an across-the-board pay raise.

“They need to sit down and study the budget like we do every night,” board President Frank Aguillard said Friday. “We know. It has been about 10 years since the local school district has given them a pay raise. We’re very far behind everyone else.”

Starting teachers in Pointe Coupee Parish are paid $38,392 a year — well below the annual pay for starting teachers in nearby school districts, including West Baton Rouge, $42,733; East Baton Rouge, $44,500; West Feliciana, $44,972; Zachary, $46,722; and Iberville, $47,024.

The pay disparity is the main reason teachers at Livonia High say the school system has trouble even getting folks to walk up to their booths at job fairs.

“It’s a school system issue. We deserve to work on this,” Lucy Boley, a teacher at Livonia High, told the School Board at its meeting Thursday. “We don’t want Pointe Coupee to be someone’s last-ditch choice.”

Boley, who served as the spokeswoman for the group of teachers pressing for the raise, said a pay increase would give the school system the stability it needs to further improve its academic standing.

“This not a negative mob of teachers screaming, ‘We want a pay raise.’ Our first goal today is to explain the fact we have problems within our system,” she said. “Stability is good for kids and the system. I’ve seen too many teachers leave with broken hearts say, ‘I love this place, but I can’t afford to stay.’ ”

Since 2010, the school system has had to hire nearly 200 new teachers because of high turnover, according to personnel records.

Boley and the group asked the School Board to appoint a special task force made up of a few board members and faculty and staff from across the parish to present to the board at its next regular meeting a proposal on how to increase employee pay.

The School Board happily obliged.

“We’ve got to find a way to pay for it; we’ve made a lot of (academic) growth in this parish,” board member James “Bado” Cline said at the meeting.

Board member Tom Nelson also expressed his support, pointing out the school district’s inability to compete with nearby districts for educators.

“We need to do something about it and as quick as we can,” Nelson said.

But Aguillard pointed out pending financial challenges the school district faces if the state Legislature repeals a business inventory tax this session.

Aguillard also said a new charter school proposed by Educo Learning Inc., which is hoping to locate it in the parish, could pluck some $1.8 million from the district’s coffers.

Aguillard fears the proposed school could gain approval from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education if the School Board denies the charter application.

“They’ve pretty much been approving these charters,” he said Friday. “We’re concerned about that because money to run that school would come out of local funds. If we lose $1.8 million from our general fund, that would be hard for us to overcome.”

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