Louisiana teachers could get raises

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 13, 2000

AP and staff reports

If a group of education and legislative officials have their way, Louisiana teachers will be paid $35,433 a year on average — a raise, but still not up to the Southern average.

In addition, the state is asking local districts to come up with some of the money for the raise — and districts don’t yet know how much they will be asked to pay, said Concordia Parish Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman.

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&uot;I’m very disappointed … at least at this stage of the process,&uot;&160;Peterman said. He added that he would like to see the state set salaries that could be funded totally from the state level.

Peterman, who attended meetings on the subject of teacher pay Wednesday in Baton Rouge, has long said that attracting certified teachers will continue to be a problem until the state raises teachers’ salaries.

Concordia Parish salaries plus pay supplements range from $22,647 for a bachelor’s degree and no experience to $34,036 for a doctorate and 25 years’ experience. Compare that with salaries in Adams County, which range from $24,165 to $45,790 a year.

The School Finance Commission, which is meeting in Baton Rouge this week, will bring several recommendations to Gov. Mike Foster by March 1. Foster is then scheduled to bring legislators into a special session to discuss those recommendations and find a way to give teachers pay raises.

Foster promised four years ago to match the salaries of Louisiana educators with their peers in other Southern states. And even with a $600 million budget shortfall looming, Foster’s top man said Wednesday that they will find a way to give those raises.

The estimated cost now is about $200 million.

”It will happen this year,” Foster chief of staff Stephen Perry said. ”We’re going to streamline this government to make sure it happens.”

But teachers may not get the full $36,920 Southern regional average.

With help from national consultants, the commission agreed to proceed with an average adjusted for cost of living, the number of teachers with advanced degrees in the states and the amount of experience teachers have in each state.

In effect, that lowers the average the state will target to $35,433. The state’s average pay estimate for 1999-2000 is $33,159.

”When we did the accountability program, they said we’re going to get (student performance) to the national average, not the national average weighted for the factors like poverty we face in Louisiana,” said Fred Skelton, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

”I’m not convinced that teachers are going to buy all this cost-of-living adjustments. They’re going to think we’re trying to get to the (Southern average) on the cheap.”

Others insisted that the weighted average is fairer because it takes into account factors that make Louisiana different from other Southern states.

”I think it is incumbent on the teachers to make a case for us accepting single generalized average,” said Paul Pastorek, a member of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. ”How can they discount these adjustments when we’re trying to compare apples to apples?”

The commission also spent Wednesday looking at a state minimum teacher salary schedule. Right now, there is no effective state teacher minimum pay.

Under a working plan commission members agreed upon Wednesday, all starting teachers in Louisiana would make at least about $27,000. There would be significant increases in the first three years to try to keep qualified teachers in the state and in the profession. Research shows about half of all teachers leave in those early years.

”We wanted to make sure our starting figure was high enough to make sure we’re able to compete to attract those new teachers to stay in Louisiana,” Perry said.

The commission also agreed on significant raises for teachers who get advanced degrees. Right now, on average, a Louisiana teacher with a master’s degree is paid only 2 percent more than a teacher with just a bachelor’s degree. Under the new plan, that would be 10 percent.

For 1998-99, the last year for which Louisiana Department of Education figures are available, the state’s average teacher salary was $31,510 — and Concordia Parish’s average was $29,687.