Almost two weeks ago, two property tax millages placed before Bossier Parish voters failed to win approval. The first proposition, a property tax of 22.94 mills was dedicated to boosting teacher and support staff salaries, would have given Bossier Parish teachers an annual pay raise of $7,200 and support staff an annual pay raise of $3,000. This proposition was defeated 74 percent to 26 percent. The second proposition, a property tax 3.22 mills would have created a funding source for technology for Bossier Parish schools. This proposition was defeated 75 percent to 25 percent.
So, now what? What options are on the table? Both sides of this issue during all of the heated discussion leading up to the May 4th vote made a point that Bossier Parish teachers need a pay raise.
The $30 billion state budget that was passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives last week includes a $1,200 annual pay raise for teachers statewide and a $600 annual pay raise for school support staff. This measure gives our teachers statewide their first pay raise in 10 years. The cost to the state of Louisiana for these pay raises will be about $120 million.
This is not a certainty yet, as the budget still has to go to the state Senate for their approval. And, much debate is sure to take place as they work out flaws and make their own changes. However, it is relatively safe to say at this point that Louisiana public school teachers and support staff statewide are going to receive a pay raise.
This investment in the future of our state is much needed. And in terms of our teachers and support staff here in Bossier Parish, even more needs to be done.
All of the debate and discussion that took place leading up to the May 4th vote in Bossier Parish has broken the ice. This issue is not going to die or go away. So now, let the constructive discussion begin.
Some of what has been said leading up to the vote and in the immediate aftermath was not constructive, but emotional or even knee jerk, as we have experienced in our social media. I have even been called a few names that I had never in my life been called before in reaction to my April 24th editorial in support of the two tax propositions.
However, most of the post-vote comments have been forward looking. And clearly, there is now a baseline from which fences can be mended, coalitions can be built and progress can be made.
In our story immediately following the May 4th vote returns, Bossier Chamber President and CEO Lisa Johnson made some statements that very accurately sum up what needs to happen from this point forward. In quoting Johnson, “There is not an easy answer or it would have been found by now. We think with collaborative meetings, a true and hard look at the budget of our school district, as well as structured pay increases that meet the needs of the district to support weaknesses and promote achievement within our schools, we can all have confidence in a plan that includes all stakeholders in the solution.” Well said.
Bossier Parish Schools Public Relations Liaison Sonja Bailes was also quoted in our story as saying, “We are understandably disappointed that competitive salaries will continue to be out of reach for the 3,000-plus educators and support employees that make Bossier Schools the outstanding school system it is. Over the last few months, we have heard the viewpoints from numerous residents and business leaders, as well as their pledge of support for educators, and look forward to working together to find an alternative solution that will offer the children of Bossier Parish the best educational outcome they deserve.” So true.
I have heard discussion of the school board strictly analyzing its budget to make any possible cuts and then using these funds for teacher pay raises. I have also heard of using a portion of casino revenues to fund teacher pay raises. And, the possibility of even dipping into the Bossier Educational Excellence Fund (BEEF).
First of all, I have never been in favor of using casino revenues for recurring expenses such as salaries, etc. However, in a few cases, our municipalities and governmental bodies have had no choice but to do so. Of course, free markets are volatile. And with this volatility, revenues are not 100 percent predictable. So, when recurring expenses, like salaries, are tied to such a volatile market, this can sometimes lead to budgeting issues and big trouble down the road. So, this options scares me.
Secondly, I am also not in agreement with dipping into BEEF. These funds are for classroom needs. Across the last 40-plus years, this fund has drawn huge interest building up to a principle amount of more than $50 million. The funds being spent each year are coming from interest only, and dipping into it would reduce the interest that can be spent while depleting a valuable resource.
So, at this point, what options are available? Hopefully, everything is on the table and the talented and creative minds that have high stakes in this issue will work to find a solution. It is going to be very interesting to see this process play out in the months ahead. And, I have no doubt that a workable solution that works for all concerned can be found.
Randy Brown is publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org