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Pointe Coupee Parish teachers returned to classrooms Thursday after nearly a week of staging “sickouts” to protest the delay of pay raises they were set to get with the passing of a new property tax hike.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a property tax increase in August that, along with giving public school teachers a $6,000 pay bump, aims to bridge an estimated $1.5 million budget shortfall.

But the school board delayed approving the raises until next year, and instead approved half the amount until January, citing concerns the school would burn through its small surplus.

Upset with the decision, many teachers at Livonia High, Valverda Elementary, Rosenwald Elementary and Upper Pointe Coupee Elementary called in sick Friday, promoting the district to cancel classes. On Wednesday, teachers at all but one school -- Rougon Elementary -- again took part in the protest.

Teachers reached an agreement with school officials after School Board President Tom Nelson assured them the board would revisit the issue at its meeting later this month. Nelson said he expects the board will vote to give the full pay raise. 

“The money will be there when the pay raise is rolled out,” he said Thursday.

In exchange, teachers agreed to halt sickouts but vowed to resume them if the board doesn't pass raises in full for teachers.

Livonia High School Teacher Jaimie McClung said the sickouts have been effective in getting the public’s attention, especially from residents who supported the tax but don’t have children in schools.

Some teachers have also expressed concerns that delays to their raises, even though the tax money is available, could add mistrust among teachers and the public in how the district spends the money.

“Teachers need to stand up now for teacher pay and using money in the school system now,” McClung said. ”If we keep letting it get pushed back, then what does it say for our respect for children’s education?”

Leading up to Election Day, school leaders and supporters of the tax hike stressed that failing to pass it would have dire consequences, including the closure of half the district's schools, teacher layoffs and other cuts.

They also said paying teachers more would help solve a perennial issue with keeping teachers, especially early-career educators who often move to neighboring districts that pay more.

Funding for some infrastructure upgrades and technology projects were also a part of the passed tax but won’t be funded until January.

Last month, school board members approved giving teachers a $3,000 raise in 6-2 vote, and last Thursday declined to rescind the decision during a heated special board meeting that saw several teachers and residents raise objections.

Board members who supported half-pay raises until next year voiced concerns about cash flow. They worried the district would not have enough cash at the start of the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2021.

Because the vote on the millage increase was pushed back from May until August because of the pandemic outbreak, the tax revenue wasn't added to the current fiscal year.

Nelson said he’s still unsure  how the final measure will look and what the timeframe for getting teacher’s and other staff the full amount 

“All I can tell you, they will get the full pay raise this fiscal year,” he said.

The district ended last year with roughly $70,000 in surpluses, which was mainly due to lower transportation and other bills schools had to pay when they shut down in March when coronavirus cases grew in Louisiana.

The school board meets next on Sept. 24.

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