The Lafayette Parish School Board approved the annual “14th check” for teachers Wednesday night, opting to give each qualifying employee a roughly $1,850 bonus check after bouncing the idea of a permanent pay raise to next year.
The additional $1,854.05 came from excess collections in the district’s 2002 sales tax fund. From 2006 through 2019, the bonus payouts have ranged from a low of $380.95 per teacher in 2010 to a high of $2,281.54 per teacher in 2013, according to school board documents.
The disbursement was approved in a 5-3 board vote, with board members Justin Centanni, Tehmi Chassion and Hannah Smith Mason voting against the payout because of a desire to see a portion of the funds rerouted toward a permanent raise for qualifying teachers.
Centanni has long been a proponent of using at least a portion of the extra funds for a permanent pay increase. It’s a philosophy battle that’s been batted back and forth, especially in the past two years, as the board weighs honoring teachers’ expressed wish for a single bonus check with building a better financial base for their long term security.
“I’m so glad the sales tax has this money in it to distribute to our teachers because nobody deserves it more, but I philosophically believe it should be a permanent salary increase,” Centanni said.
“Based on the pandemic and the possible, and I think likely, downward trend in sales tax collections that could materially reduce or eliminate that large excess distribution, I think it’s best to put it in there permanently,” board member Tehmi Chassion said.
Board president Britt Latiolais commented after the vote he intends to support using a portion of the sales tax funds to support a salary increase next year.
Julia Reed, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, said she personally supports implementing a salary raise instead of a single lump sum check and her organization has worked to educate its roughly 1,000-person membership on the benefits.
Salary money, once dedicated, is guaranteed and can’t be taken away, while the one-time bonus could dry up if sales tax collections take a dive, she said.
Reed said LPAE’s membership had begun shifting its position, with an April survey showing roughly 98% of the approximately 450 members polled supported a raise, but that support dropped off in the past week following Hurricane Delta. A new survey of around 100 teachers this week showed only 30% supported the raise, while most wanted the immediate bonus check, she said.
The association president said members were concerned about immediate needs, like paying homeowner’s insurance deductibles after suffering storm damage and affording the cost of replacing their entire refrigerator and freezer’s contents after food spoiled during power outages.
“...2020 has been a very rough year for a lot of them,” Reed said.
“I think hopefully next year, knock on wood, if everything is a little more stable then they’ll be more amenable to the raise...The raise is always safe money. It can’t be taken away because of an economic downturn,” she said.
Projections for a sustained economic downturn associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the possibility of a reduced bonus check next year, may drive the importance of securing money home to teachers in an unfortunately tangible way, Reed said.
The LPAE president said when the 2002 sales tax was originally passed it was sold to voters as a mechanism for increasing teachers’ salaries. Salary increases covered by the fund were instituted in 2010 and 2015, according to district records.
In 2019, the district’s Blue Ribbon Committee recommended the school board institute a salary increase in 2020 and every five years afterward, using some of the excess sales tax revenues with the rest left over for the “14th check.”
Going into Wednesday’s meeting, a $500 salary increase had been the committee’s recommendation.
Billy Guidry, assistant superintendent for business services, said at the Blue Ribbon Committee’s Sept. 28 meeting that if $1.2 million was pulled from reserve funds associated with the 2010 and 2015 salary increases, teachers could get the $500 raise and a $954.40 bonus check.
Guidry said that without the one-time bump from reserve funds the “14th check” amount would have likely dropped into the $500 range next year because of COVID-19’s impact on collections, but could have recovered as sales taxes improved.