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Pay freeze leads to pay problems for Webster teachers

by Minden Press-Herald

A closer look at the Webster Parish School Board’s salary schedule shows that it might not be what it appears to be.

Jim Croad, an art teacher at Minden High School, says when the pay freeze took place eight years ago, no one questioned it, but the freeze has not been lifted since then.

“In our minds, there’s a vast difference between a raise and the salary schedule,” he said. “The salary schedule we’re happy with, but we haven’t been paid along that salary schedule in eight years now. So we’re wanting to recoup or get back some of our lost wages, or at the very least, or including our lost time, which goes towards our retirement. We’re not asking for a raise, we’re asking for the money that’s been kept from us.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says the pay freeze has been lifted as of July 1, and there is no language in this year’s budget that indicates a salary freeze.
“That means this year, the board can give them money if they have it,” he said.

“We budgeted $150,000 for stepped increase. It will be in the form of a supplement check if they have the money.”

Croad says the teachers he represents understand the school board may not be able to return to the salary schedule it once had due to changes in the law and budget cuts over the years. What they want, he says, is a salary schedule everyone can live with.

The Salary Schedule

The salary schedule as it stands right now does not leave room for a teacher to move up or receive a step increase in their salary unless they are rated highly effective three years in a row. This means in their evaluations, their scores must total four three years in a row.

The way the salary structure is set up now, money they say is supposed to be included in their salary is not, but as separate checks.
Red River United president Jackie Lansdale says she’s never seen a salary schedule set up like Webster’s and calls it a manipulation of numbers to make their budget look good.

“The salary schedule originally had the sales tax built into it, and then they took the sales tax out of it,” she said. “Therein becomes the issue. We’re not going to accuse anyone of anything, but there’s a law that says you can’t reduce a teacher’s salary from year to year. On that salary schedule, when they redid it, they took the sales tax out of it, then they froze everybody at whatever step they were on. They could only progress if they were highly effective for three consecutive years. There’s no other district in the state that has a salary schedule like that.”

The Sales Taxes

There are at least two sales taxes that are partially dedicated to teachers’ salaries. One is the 1969 sales tax. A total of 70 percent goes to professional salaries, including instructional personnel, adjustment first and second year teachers’ salaries and sabbatical leave and substitute teachers. A total of 14.98 percent goes to nonprofessional salaries including lunchroom workers, managers, janitors, maintenance personnel, school secretaries, bus mechanics and bus drivers. The remaining 15 percent goes into the general fund and non-salary items.

The 1996 sales tax is a one percent sales tax for the school board “for providing salary and benefit increases for school board employees, paying benefits for retired school employees, paying for instructional programs and materials, purchasing computer equipment and software, paying energy costs, maintaining air conditioning equipment and systems and purchasing school buses.”

When asked about the 1996 sales tax, Rawls says he knows about the tax but did not know anything about whether it was taken out of the teacher’s salary schedule at the time pay was frozen.

“I would suspect that Webster did the same thing all the other districts did in the state,” he said. “That would be to hand the money out so that it’s not locked into the salary schedule. If you put it into the salary schedule and hand it out, then it’s locked in. If it’s given outside the salary schedule and given as a supplement, it’s not locked in.”

The Schedule and Evaluation

According to the salary schedule, it appears support personnel and other employees are evaluated the same way as a teacher.

“There’s nothing in Act 1 that stipulates that support personnel should be evaluated in that way,” Croad said. “Act 1 was completely for teachers and not in any way directed towards support personnel.”

Teachers are evaluated twice per year, once in the fall and once in the spring, scoring from one to four. In the 2013-14 salary schedule, the guidelines read in part: “Teachers who are rated ‘highly effective’ shall receive an annual compensation stipend. Teachers who are rated ‘highly effective’ for three consecutive years shall receive a step increase. VAM (value added model) teachers will also receive a one-time $500 stipend. SLT (student learning targets) teachers will also receive a one-time $375 stipend.

Barry Landry, with the Louisiana Department of Education, says 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on a composite score comprised of student growth and qualitative assessment of performance. The other 50 percent is based on the principal’s evaluation, Rawls said.

“The principal does an observation evaluation, and out of that observation, he’s going to score the teacher on a rubric,” the superintendent said.

One teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal says in order for them to get a stipend for their rating, a teacher must score a four for three consecutive years.

“To score a four is virtually impossible,” he said. “Principals have the right to do an informal evaluation without notice, but it’s never been done in Webster Parish until now. It just seems strange this being exercised when money is now tied to it. It’s manipulation. It’s wrong.”

Rawls says the language is confusing and needs to be fixed. He explained that at the end of the three years, it becomes a permanent step increase in their salary.
“What it’s saying is, ‘I’ve been highly effective for three years in a row,’” he said. “’Then at the end of those three years, I get a permanent increase of those steps in my salary schedule.’ But each year of those three years, it’s just a stipend. Those three years of highly effective makes that increase permanent.”

About 40 teachers out of some 300 in Webster Parish scored highly effective, Rawls says, with only two scoring ineffective.

Lansdale believes Webster is using that three-year stipulation as “an excuse to balance their budget on the backs of their employees.”

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