Teachers sound off at school board meeting after proposed tax for pay raises fails

LIVINGSTON, La. — Five days after Livingston Parish voters rejected a proposed sales tax that would have given all district employees a raise, the school board listened to a slew of district employees. They voiced their concerns looking for a resolution of what’s next for the school district during Thursday evening’s regularly scheduled meeting.

“I’m not worth a PENNY… help us BE HEARD”

Before Thursday’s meeting, a group of over 20 teachers gathered on the side of Highway 190 wearing shirts with the phrase “I’m not worth a PENNY… help us BE HEARD” with signs urging motorists to honk in support of teachers.

We’re out here for transparency and we would just like to be heard for our school system to continue to excel,” said Sandi Stafford who is a member of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and a teacher at Holden High School. “It’s not going to excel if they are not paying us what they are worth. We are an A+ district but our pay scale is an F.”

Stafford acknowledged there were certain places where the tax passed. She said there was a collective sentiment of disappointment when they found out the results on Saturday.

“We put a lot in our profession. We care about the kids and the community, and that’s why Livingston Parish is such a great place to live, because of our school district,” she said. “If they don’t do something better to increase our pay according to surrounding districts, it won’t be this way forever. We’re worried about the future.

“Whenever the vote was no, we kind of realized if we don’t stand up for ourselves now, what’s going to happen in the future,” she added. “This has probably been a long time coming. Something probably should have been done before this but sometimes it takes things like this to make you get on fire for your mission. Without things changing, the educational system of Livingston Parish is going to suffer.”

VOTE FALLOUT

Since Saturday’s vote, many teachers have spoken out either at Thursday’s board meeting or through social media about their disappointment and frustration with the results.

On Tuesday, the district announced a career fair would be postponed because of an expected low number of teachers. Two Livingston Parish Schools canceled classes because a significant amount of employees were not going to be there.

Michael Simmons, the director of the Denham Springs STEM and Robotics program said Thursday that teachers feel betrayed by the school board.

“I think anger and hurt you are seeing today from educators is because we feel as if we’ve been betrayed by a board that’s supposed to have best interests in mind at all times,” he said. “The board is supposed to speak up on our behalf, not against us. Board members who were elected to do what was best for the schools, not carry out personal agendas against a superintendent they dislike and have 3,700 employees become collateral damage in the game.”

Tamara Cupit, president of the state Federation of Teachers and teacher at Denham Springs Freshman High spoke about the need to find a solution.

“You hear these teachers,” she said Thursday to the board. “They are crying out. It’s clear things are getting desperate.

Livingston Parish Schools Superintendent Joe Murphy

Superintendent’s Proposal

Livingston Parish Superintendent Joe Murphy presented a proposal at Thursday’s meeting that included parent-teacher conferences only held within the teacher’s contracted hours. All principals would have the discretion to discontinue any non-essential clubs or activities that take place outside the sponsor’s work period when they aren’t being paid. That could go in place for the rest of the school year.

Livingston Parish Schools’ current calendar has minutes built into it for weather-related dismissals. According to the superintendent, there has been only one weather-related dismissal this year.

As a result of extra minutes not being used, pending any other weather-related dismissals, Murphy is proposing that the school year end on May 19, one week earlier than planned. Dismissing a week early will still allow all schools to meet the minimum requirements for instructional minutes, according to Murphy.

Murphy added that most schools require faculty to work after-hours athletic events, either at the gate, concessions or performing other related activities outside of their contracted work hours.

As part of the proposal, Murphy said no employee should be required to work at the athletic events unless it is voluntary or the employee is being compensated at the principal’s discretion. He said the school can compensate the employee or the school could ask for parent volunteers to perform the duties.

Murphy also mentioned a four-day workweek could be a possible solution, but acknowledged that would require a lot more time and research before it could be brought before everyone as a viable option.

The board approved three measures of Murphy’s proposal- the parent conferences, non-essential club or activity participation and after-hour events participation. Since it was approved, the teachers would be paid for those activities from the general fund for the remainder of the school year.

The other items Murphy proposed, such as ending the school year on May 19, would be tabled for a special meeting soon.

Murphy reiterated on Thursday that if the tax would’ve passed, he wouldn’t have received a raise. He planned to donate to the non-profit Mighty Moms, which organizes programs for children in the Greater Baton Rouge area.

“I cannot see a scenario moving forward unless the board decides to and if the board decides to, that’s fine. I am not going to be in favor of not compensating all of our people,” Murphy said.

Maegan Howes, a member of the teacher federation, said she didn’t think affecting athletic events or clubs would be right for the students.

“We do not want to punish our students. We do not want to punish our parents,” she said. “How many teachers must we in Livingston Parish lose before we are listened to instead of just being heard? People didn’t vote no because of the teachers, they voted no because they didn’t trust the school board.”

Fresh set of eyes on funds

The board also approved entering into a contract with a third-party consultant to analyze the staffing and salary structure of the school district. The board also discussed creating a task force dedicated to finding a solution to teacher pay raises.

Board member Kellee Hennessy Dickerson, an outspoken advocate against the tax, clarified she is for teachers receiving raises, just not through taxing the citizens.

“I believe we can cut and sacrifice and budget and make this happen sooner rather than later,” she said. “We have divided this system in half and it shouldn’t be that way. A 20-year tax where we don’t have enough industry to compete with Ascension Parish and EBR. We’re asking our grandchildren to pay for something. While our people deserve it, I said I did not think a tax was right and obviously the community made that clear on the 25th.”

What’s Next?

There are plans for a cost-savings initiative committee meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m. Following the meeting, Murphy pointed out that there is not enough money in the budget currently to significantly raise pay for school employees.

“I want our teachers and employees to know we are just as hurt and disappointed and some of us are just as angry this didn’t pass,” he said. “We understand that .”

Some teachers felt Thursday’s meeting was a productive step.

“It’s a beginning,” Cupit said. “I asked several times for clarity on different things and I think that’s what that special meeting is going to do. It’s going to clarify some of those initiatives that they were talking about. I hope it’s as constructive as tonight was.”

“I feel that we are making strides in the right direction,” Howes said. “I felt that tonight. I think the board was receptive to the public comment. I feel that was justified by them calling the special meeting on Wednesday to address those concerns. They listened, the board members were open and honest and they took all of that into consideration.”

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