Our View: Terrebonne task force tackling teacher pay

A task force of business leaders and community volunteers formed this year to propose solutions regarding the Terrebonne Parish School District’s financial woes appears to be nearing a consensus on one topic – prioritizing teacher pay.

In the group’s fourth meeting, held Monday at the Terrebonne Parish Library North Branch, members spoke uniformly in favor of granting teachers pay raises at a time when pay and other factors have contributed to the system’s 60-certified teacher shortfall.

Sharon Bergeron, executive at Coastal Commerce Bank, said “nothing is more concerning” than ensuring every student can learn from a qualified teacher and that salaries are the first step in that goal.

Mark LaRussa, of the Bayou Board of Realtors Political Action Committee, said the system should set a pay-rate goal beyond the state average to keep salary levels competitive beyond three-to-four years.

“The forest fire right now is teacher salaries,” Superintendent Philip Martin said in agreement.

The panel, spearheaded by TPSD and the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce, was formed in the wake of the school district’s failed 31-mill tax proposal in May, one that the chamber staunchly opposed. Teachers have said they were struck by the community’s lack of commitment to education funding; one last week said she felt exiled from the community.

The task force’s ambition is tempering now that the amount of scheduled time is dwindling. An all-encompassing proposal – or even one that solely examines facilities – would take many more months – and likely a commissioned study – in order to generate accord. As the group’s facilitator Harold Suire suggested, they have moved past analysis to the point of paralysis.

After all, there’s nothing preventing the chamber of commerce and the school board from reconvening another panel in the future to focus on targeted issues.

But, now, on salaries they have moved together to set a foundation. Neither desired pay rates nor a funding mechanism have been expressed, and there are no guarantees that the school board would heed any suggestions. Even further down the road is how voters will react. So, yes, even teacher pay is a long way from a success.

As Suire suspects, there are likely many more factors to the school system’s teacher shortfall. It’s important for both the task force and the system – from the superintendent to the principals – to root out factors contributing to this teacher exodus.

Solely throwing money at the issue won’t solve other fundamental problems that may exist, and the panel has made it clear that they want the whole picture of the problem.

We commend that mindset, irrespective of how this plays out, because it represents a thirst for truth that could, maybe after some rough moments, make the school system stronger than ever.