Terrebonne school board seeks options to attract teachers

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The Terrebonne Parish School Board is exploring new options to attract certified educators to their classrooms.

At last week’s board meeting, members authorized the Board Attorney to seek an Attorney General opinion with regards to using profits from the Terrebonne Construction Company, Inc. to establish an endowment fund to provide scholarships to future Terrebonne Parish educators.

The Terrebonne Parish School District owns Terrebonne Construction Company, which is not an actual construction company, but rather a corporation that owns different properties for lease or rent throughout the parish.

With the school system serving as a landlord for these properties, the school board has an interest to use that revenue to fund scholarships.

Superintendent Philip Martin said he thought of using the money toward scholarships while attending the Teenager of the Year program where he heard many of the students mention an interest in education.

“I began thinking ‘How can I encourage these brilliant kids to go into education and then come back home to teach,” Martin said. “The motive is to attract and lure intelligent, progressive, top-line people back to Terrebonne Parish to be teachers in our classrooms.”

While many other school districts attract first-time teachers through first-year signing bonuses, Martin said this is an inventive idea being examined by Terrebonne’s school district.

Rebecca Breaux, finance and statistics supervisor for TPSD, said the board is in the process of seeking legal advice to determine whether the funds from Terrebonne Construction Company are public dollars and whether or not those dollars can be used to fund scholarships.

“The concept is out there and the state has done it for many years with tax dollars and public dollars,” Breaux said. “The state provides TOPS and those are public dollars going for the same exact purpose. We just want to make sure we cover all of our bases before we do anything.”

In the past, the money generated from Terrebonne Construction Company was put toward building improvements and the installation of cameras on buses. It also provided funding for teachers who were not certified to earn their certification.

“We’re having trouble finding certified teachers and having trouble getting certified teachers to come to Terrebonne Parish because our salary is not competitive,” Breaux said.

While this proposal remains in the early stages of legal considerations, Martin said there would be a substantial return in the services offered by a teacher whose career in the parish can last more than 30 years.

“If we get a young person to come here and spend their career as an educator, that’s a really good investment,” Martin said.

In their preliminary discussions, Martin said it was mentioned the scholarship would offer a competitive amount to match the TOPS program and would last the duration of four years. Their scholarship program would be similar to a loan forgiveness program, the superintendent said.

“If you come back to teach in Terrebonne Parish, you don’t owe us anything,” he said.

The board also has to decide how many scholarships they would award, which would determine the start date for this program depending on the funds available.

The recruitment of teachers remains a significant concern for Martin. While the school district does not have high turnover rate when it comes to certified teachers, it does have a problem with the recruitment of certified teachers.

“With any school district, there are between 40 to 80 teachers retiring and filling that pipeline with certified teachers is the big difficulty,” Martin said. “Locally, we’re not manufacturing enough of our own.”