Hundreds of teachers, librarians and school counselors in Baton Rouge Parish public schools who earned high ratings on their most recent annual evaluations aren’t getting an extra $350 or $550 in performance pay because they missed 10 days or more of work last year.
“People are very upset,” said Gretchen Lampe, UniServ director for the Louisiana Association of Educators southeast region.
The union has been encouraging its members to take advantage of a 45-day appeal period in the policy, and school officials say about 50 have appealed so far. Teachers have until Jan. 5 to appeal, while guidance counselors and librarians have until the end of January.
Appeals filed by about dozen employees were denied with no reasons given for the denials, Lampe said.
“You’ve got to at least tell people why,” she said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school district may face budget cuts after it spent through roughly half of its financial reserves last year.
According to numbers provided by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, 688 of these highly rated educators were denied. They represent about 31 percent of the 2,191 educators eligible for the extra money known as “effectiveness stipends.”
Teachers not tripped up by the 10-day rule were paid Nov. 22, while guidance counselors and librarians were paid the extra money Dec. 18. Principals and assistant principals are not scheduled to be paid their stipends until sometime in February.
The school system years ago began paying employees one-time stipends as part of a statewide performance pay initiative that coincided with a revamp of the evaluation system for school personnel.
Educators every year earn one of four ratings: ineffective, emerging effective, effective proficient and highly effective. The last two ratings come with money.
In East Baton Rouge, that works out to $350 extra for employees rated proficient and $550 more for employees rated highly effective. Highly rated principals and assistant principals can earn more too, ranging from $600 to $1,200.
The parish school system has long attached an attendance requirement to these one-time payouts. The attendance requirements, though, have no effect on whether highly rated employees get to advance up the salary schedule faster than they would otherwise, another perk of a strong evaluation.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators this year is questioning why so many employees are being denied these effectiveness stipends.
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Janet Harris, director of human resources, said her office has no problem explaining why it’s denying some appeals, noting that the letters sent encourage employees to call the Human Resources office if they have questions.
Some kinds of leave under the policy are automatically exempted, including professional, jury duty, military and annual leave. But other kinds of leave are eligible only for employees who can prove them upon appeal, including medical leave and bereavement leave as per the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA.
Lampe there are some good reasons why employees might miss so much time from work.
“If I had a baby, or my kid got a bad case of the flu, then I would have missed 10 days,” she said.
Harris said the kinds of leave automatically exempted are ones the school system closely tracks, while the ones available only on appeal are ones that are harder to track on district's database.
“The report does not pick up FMLA leave and medical leave,” she said.
For those kinds of leave, the school system opts to have the employees appeal and show proof before granting them the stipends, Harris said.
Stacy Addison, an English teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High and a member of Lampe’s union, said she’s been rated “highly effective” for the past three years. But she didn't get the $550 stipend because she took several days off work last year from Glen Oaks High after a student threw a lectern at her and injured her.
She said she should have been allowed to take what’s known under state law as assault leave, and not have to use so many of her personal sick days.
“I was one day over the limit of my 10 days,” Addison said.
She said she’s fought with school officials for months to get those sick days converted to assault leave. After she didn't see $550 more in her Nov. 22 paycheck, as she feared would happen, she appealed. She said her appeal was later denied without explanation. She said she has little hope of finding out more if she calls Human Resources.
“You can never get through over there,” Addison said.
She said she’s getting fed up.
“Every year it’s something different to take the money from us,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”