Lafourche, St. Mary new salary schedule OK’d

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The St. Mary and Lafourche parish school boards recently approved new salary schedules in compliance with Louisiana’s Act 1 of the 2012 legislature, and the new payment plans will go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year.

“This new law will affect the pay of teachers, administration and certified personnel at our schools,” said Lafourche Parish School Board member Louis Thibodaux. “Any pay raises for teachers will be based upon experience and performance. There will be no more step pay increases based on number of years someone has been teaching. There will be a new, merit-based plan in place in the public school system.”

Act 1 of the 2012 legislative session made sweeping changes to the way the state’s teachers will be evaluated and awarded raises. Beginning next school year, teachers will be given raises based on effectiveness, demand and experience. The law has drawn both positive and negative comments from educators since before Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the act into law, with many teachers concerned about losing tenure and pay freezes.

“Fifty percent of the teacher’s evaluation will be based on performance, and that will determine compensation,” Thibodaux said. “People are concerned that this will eventually affect their pay, and that is causing some apprehension because there are subjective components to the evaluation system.

“I think overall it will be a smooth implementation of the evaluation system, but I don’t think 100 percent of people will be happy with the system,” he added. “At this point, it’s too early to make a judgment call on how this system is going to work. Some people understand it and know that it will provide more data, but it’s far too early to pass judgment.”

In addition to increasing the annual starting salary of full-time teachers to $40,000, the Lafourche Parish School Board also plans to offer incentive bonuses to teachers.

“The incentive pay will be given on a yearly basis and will not be included in a teacher’s salary,” said Lafourche Parish School Board spokesman Floyd Benoit. “Teachers may be awarded $250 for things like perfect attendance, increased evaluation scores, increased test scores or for earning their masters or doctorate degrees.”

The school board will present its incentive plan to the state March 1.

“We hope this helps us to recruit and retain teachers,” Benoit said. “Across the state, some districts are losing teachers.”

In St. Mary Parish, school board member Roland Verret is worried about what the new pay schedule will mean for his parish as well as all the other parishes across the state.

“Several school boards in the state are already facing financial hardship,” Verret said. “They tell us there will be no significant change in cost to us, but I find it a little hard to believe that it will not cost us more. I’ll believe it when it happens. I believe there is a better way to evaluate teacher performance and a better way to compensate them. We have to be very frugal under this new plan.”

In the event that the new plan does go over the school board budget for teacher’s salaries, the board will use $150,000 set aside from settling a dispute with a pipeline company.

“We have money set aside for that purpose, if needed,” Thibodaux said. “We are fortunate to have that pot of gold.”

“This change was mandated by the state,” he said. “We were not planning to do anything like this – it was an unfunded mandate that was forced on us. I’m not against improvements, but I am against unfunded mandates out of Baton Rouge. People need to realize that it’s more politics than reality. All school districts can be improved, but this is not the way to do it.”

Like Lafourche Parish, new teachers in St. Mary Parish will also start out making $40,000 a year and will also have pay incentives.

“We have been working to implement this for the last six months,” Thibodaux said. “Our original salary schedule took into account the degree each teacher held and their years of experience over a 30-year period. We brought in a professional staff to prepare our new salary schedule, and the first two pay schedules we sent to the state were both rejected. The state gave us samples from two or three other parishes, and we took parts of their plans to make ours. It’s confusing to look at.”

Under the parish’s new pay schedule, teachers will have 65 steps instead of 30, and teachers will be able to move up more than one step at a time based on $225 incentives including educational degrees, special training and having more than 30 years of teaching experience.

“There are not many 30-years-plus teachers in the system,” he said. “The incentive is not going to knock anybody’s socks off in terms of pay. It’s almost going to be like petty cash. Some will also not be successful at earning incentive pay. Some are more talented than others, and the pay is not a great incentive to go back to school.”

Verret pointed out that many teachers are concerned about what evaluations will mean for future baseline pay increases.

“Teachers are worried that their pay will be frozen if they cannot get their evaluations above 1.5. on the 1-4 scale,” Verret said. “I thought our pay system was good, but state is interfering and we need to protect our assets.”

Verret has a positive attitude and will work with other school board members to acclimate the parish’s teachers to the new pay scale.

“I think it will be ok, but there is that fear of the unknown,” Verret said. “We will communicate the information to our employees as best we can. We have already started with the evaluation processes. Principals are training themselves. We will do what we can to be successful under this new system and have in-services to explain the system to our employees. We are doing what we were ordered to do.”