Can Livingston Parish fund a teacher pay raise with a one-cent tax? Here’s what teachers and business leaders say.

LIVINGSTON — Livingston Parish schools is backing a one-cent sales tax to fund a stealthy 10% pay raise for its teachers and staff.

The raise would mean Livingston Parish teachers would be among the highest paid in the area, giving the district a new recruiting and retention tool at a time when teachers are fleeing for either higher paying jobs in neighboring districts or leaving the industry altogether.

It’s a standard that Livingston Parish schools deeply wants to return to. For many years, the parish had no trouble recruiting educators. They were among the best in the state — not only for pay, but for working conditions.

Livingston Parish Superintendent Joe Murphy said something must be done to improve his school system’s low ranking in teacher and employee pay, which has led to constant turnover in recent years – and a steady drop in school performance scores.

“What we’re experiencing is an out-migration because of a pay discrepancy,” Livingston Parish Schools superintendent Joe Murphy said. “You lose people when they can go across the parish line to Tangipahoa and other places and make five or six thousand dollars more. The most important factor in a child’s development at school is the quality of the instructor across from them.”

Sign in Livingston Parish on the proposed one-cent sales tax

One-cent tax for 20 years

Murphy believes a solution to the problem is a one-cent sales tax to help fund a 10% pay raise for all public school employees. The minimum raise for a school employee would be $2,500 annually.

Voters in Livingston Parish will have a choice to fund the raise for the district’s nearly 3,800 employees on March 25. The parish-wide ballot item will generate around $24 million per year.

School leaders know with the uncertainty of the economy that a tax isn’t easy for all families. But groceries, prescription medicine and gas sales in the parish would be exempt from the one-cent tax, officials say.

They’re hoping those exemptions will be enough to entice voters to make a critical step in funding education for the entire parish.

“We understand it’s a big ask for the citizens of Livingston Parish,” Murphy said. “We hope the public can see the value of investing in our teachers and our school system.”

Teacher Pay Ranking

The proposal for the tax was a recommendation by the newly formed Livingston Parish Educational Facilities Improvement District (EFID). The EFID board of directors, established last fall, voted to approve the one-cent sales tax for voters.

Livingston Parish Public Schools rank last among neighboring school districts in pay for new teachers, school officials say. Leaders believe that pay gap has brought the district to nearly the bottom in all other categories.

If the tax is passed, Livingston Parish schools would have the highest beginning teacher pay in the area surpassing Tangipahoa, East Baton Rouge and Ascension Parishes. The increase would also rival Zachary and Central Schools, which tout having one of the highest new teacher pay salaries in the state.

The raise would also bring Livingston Parish on par with Zachary and Central for more experienced teachers who have at least 25 years of experience.

If the tax passes in March, the pay raises would go into effect for the 2023-24 school year, officials say.

Tax opposition

The tax doesn’t come without its share of opposition. Those who oppose the tax argue the parish is already heavily taxed and the school system should look within its budget to exhaust all other options to reduce spending before taxing citizens.

Scott Jones, a small business owner and member of the EFID board, was the lone “no” vote in November in regard to putting the tax on the March ballot.

“(Teachers) definitely need a raise, but I think (the public) ought to demand the board, ‘Hey, let’s really dig in and find ways to give these increases in house without a new tax’,” Jones said. “That’s what everybody should be demanding. Until then, don’t even bring that in here.”

Jones believes teachers desperately need a raise, but he also believes the district should find money to cut from their budgets before going to voters.

“If things get tight at your house, you don’t go pass taxes to fund your household, you cut the budget,” he added. “You cut out those $5 coffees or the dinner twice a week or whatever it is you cut it until you can make ends meet. We need to do the same thing to fund these payroll increases.”

Teachers speak out

“Improving teacher pay is only a small part of the equation, and the district should also be looking at making other improvements.” ~Livingston Parish teacher of two decades

“I have a lot of friends who are teachers or in various areas of the school board and the school system and I know they desperately need a raise,” Jones said. “I’m so supportive of that and have been but I don’t think we just run out and pass taxes to get raises and fun stuff. I think there’s so much money out there and I’m a firm believer that everybody can find 10% in their budget to cut.

Unfiltered with Kiran spoke with a number of current Livingston Parish teachers and staff about the tax. Many did not want to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the vote.

While there is support among teachers, some tell UWK that they feel the tax is being rushed in hopes of passing without a proper public debate on the issue. Others say they feel Livingston Parish is already overly taxed, and this could be a burden for residents for two decades.

Livingston Parish has the eighth highest sales tax rate in the state, records show. That number ranges between 8.45%-10.45% with the exception of the Juban Crossing area, which has the highest tax rate of 10.95%.

Livingston Federation of Teachers conduct survey

The Livingston Federation of Teachers says that over 80 percent of employees surveyed say they support the first new sales tax — the first new tax in Livingston Parish solely dedicated to employee raises in 36 years.

The federation’s survey shows that concerns of the proposed tax stem from a distrust of the school board and/or upper-level district administration. Officials say those concerns were alleviated by the specific language in the proposal, which legally dedicates the funding raised by the sales tax to salaries and benefits exclusively.

Only 4.7 percent of the funding from the tax would go to central office staff if it is passed. Superintendent Murphy says that he will donate his portion of the raise to charity.

“This survey shows that across the board, the overwhelming majority of teachers and school employees in Livingston Parish support this sales tax,” said Tamara Cupit, president of the Livingston Federation of Teachers and a teacher at Denham Springs Freshman High School. “It’s hard to propose a measure that everyone will be 100 percent satisfied with, but the fact is Livingston educators need a raise and this is how we’re going to get it.”

Visit https://www.livingston1cent.com/ for information about the proposed tax.

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