Teachers stress need and importance of pay raise vote at school board meeting

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Bossier Parish School Board. (Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

Teachers are standing up in support of the May 4 ballot issue that will give them a pay raise.

Educators and advocates were on hand at the Bossier Parish School Board’s meeting Thursday night to address the board and new Superintendent Mitch Downey as part of the Bossier Education Coalition.

Two millages are on the ballot — a property tax increase of 22.94 mills for funding pay raises for teachers and classified employees and an increase of 3.22 mills for a dedicated fund source for technology improvements. 

Spencer Kiper, Elm Grove Middle School STEM teacher and 2019 Louisiana Teach of the Year, spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Bossier Education Coalition.

Kiper said the group’s mission is to inform the public on the importance of supporting Bossier Schools while giving educators and education advocates the platform to elevate their voices. 

Spencer Kiper

“Now, more than ever, it’s important for leaders and employees to band together. Our message to you, the board and Superintendent Downey, is we stand with you,” Kiper said. “May 4th is a huge factor in deciding the trajectory of Bossier Schools. We ask that you be vigilant and your leadership continue to guide our schools and our staff with the innovation and vision our community has come to expect.”

Meredith McGovern, a teacher and lead organizer for the Bossier Education Coalition, also addressed the board and superintendent. She noted the group is a grassroots organization with a “budget of $0.”

She applauded the board for “recognizing and valuing the work of employees and thanked them for their leadership in seeking to improve salaries for all Bossier Schools employees with the May 4th vote.”

The taxes would generate approximately $25 million annually and cause property taxes to rise by more than 20 percent.

Some within the local business community have taken a stance against the propositions.

The Bossier Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors sent a release last Friday asking the board to pull the propositions from the ballot, citing their negative financial impact on businesses.

A graphic issued by the chamber Thursday afternoon notes that of the money generated by the new proposed millages, businesses would be on the hook for 70 percent of it. That is a cost of $17.5 million.

Sonja Bailes, public relations liaison for Bossier Schools, said in an email to the Press-Tribune that the Bossier Parish School Board remains committed to its 3,000-plus educators and employees “whose salaries have increased five percent over the last 20 years from local funds.” 

“We are the fastest growing public school district in north Louisiana with the highest median income in comparison to our neighboring parishes; yet Bossier pays beginning teachers the least compared to Caddo, Desoto, Red River and Webster parishes. Not only are we finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new teachers, but we are also losing highly effective educators to other districts,” the emailed statement said. “Absentee ballots have already been sent out and early voting begins in a matter of days. We have heard from businesses – both big and small — that support our efforts in recognition of the economic engine Bossier Schools is, the job ready workforce it provides and the quality of life it lends to our community. We value all of our partners and will continue to collaborate with the Bossier Chamber.”

A group of business owners called Building a Better Bossier Pac have also begun rallying against the propositions. According to KTBS, its a group of 19 people who have contributed more than $150,000 to fund a campaign advising voters to say “no” to the millages.

Kiper added, “Our leaders fight for the best conditions for our students and employees, and the hundreds of local (community members) and businesses understand the value of investing in Bossier Schools.”

McGovern said in her comments at the board meeting that Bossier is one of the best parishes for education in the state of Louisiana and is a “selling point for bringing in not only homebuyers, but businesses.”

She added that supporters within the Bossier Education Coalition are working with community members at “every school in the parish” to hold “early voting sprit days” next week.

“The Bossier Education Coalition would like to invite every school board member to join us within your district as we go to the voting booth to show our support for Bossier education,” McGovern said.