Teachers: Raises needed to make ends meet

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. — Ferriday kindergarten teacher Janet Vaught spends up to eight hours a day leading children through activities designed to teach them 350 objectives.

When her teaching and carloading activities are through, she stops by Wal-Mart to buy craft materials for her class with her own money, often stopping to talk with parents of students as she sees them.

Most of her weekends — she sometimes takes Saturday off to run other errands — are spent filling out lesson plans for the next week.

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Vaught loves teaching children — &uot;they’re the future of my hometown,&uot;&160;she said — and isn’t seeking to move to another career. It’s just that, at the end of the day, she would like to have made enough money not to have to take out yet another loan to pay more than $1,600 a month in room, board and other expenses for her two college-age children.

&uot;I’m not usually one to make a lot of noise,&uot;&160;said Vaught, who nets $1,500 a month after taxes and whose husband is a farmer. &uot;I just want to be able to support my children and pay my bills and not be made to feel ashamed of that.&uot;

That is why Vaught wants to see the Louisiana Legislature pass revenue measures this year to give teachers and other school employees a pay raise.

State-level options

On Monday, the House is expected to debate a tax proposal that would raise a net $755 million, with about $400 million for education, including teacher raises. The plan, which was proposed by Gov. Mike Foster, would raise the average teacher’s salary by $3,000 a year, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Concordia teachers make an average of $29,687 a year, while Louisiana’s average is $32,300 — not including administrators’ salaries, according to state education officials. Compare that with the southeastern average of $37,000.

&uot;We’ve been discussing it in the teachers’ lounge, and we’re not sure who gets the (state average) that they’re talking about,&uot;&160;Vaught said. &uot;I&160;have a master’s degree and this is my 20th year teaching, and I get $26,000 plus $3,000 from the parish.&uot;

Even Foster isn’t optimistic that the proposal will get the needed two-thirds vote. If it doesn’t, a constitutional amendment to replace much of the state’s sales tax with an income tax would be the best chance of funding a teacher raise, said Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, chairman of Ways and Means.

Without such measures, the state’s proposed budget for next year is $334 million short of handling the state’s needs and does not include raises for teachers. According to Hammett, the state is short of money because the state, for its revenue, depends too heavily on sales taxes, which do not grow with the economy.

And the pressure is on to give such a raise, especially in light of a rally 5,000 Louisiana Federation of Teachers members held earlier this month at the State Capitol and a raise Mississippi teachers were promised by the Legislature this year.

Under Mississippi’s plan, that state’s teachers would get a 30 percent raise over six years. However, that raise doesn’t start until fiscal 2002 and would only be done in years when the state’s revenue grew at least 5 percent. Mississippi now pays teachers $31,000 a year on average.

Promises, promises

Vaught doesn’t fault the Concordia Parish School District for not raising teachers’ salaries, given a still-sagging economy, $700,000 in taxes not paid by bankrupt Fruit of the Loom and a more than $500,000 loss in state funding this year.

But when she sees headlines about state government waste, she wonders if that money couldn’t be better spent on the professionals to whom the state’s future — its children — is entrusted.

&uot;This is a poor parish, so they can’t afford to pay us a bigger supplement than they do,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;But the state, for its part, pays a beginning teacher $17,000. That’s pretty pitiful.&uot;

What hurts senior English and Spanish teacher Kenneth Hathaway of Vidalia High the most is the number of promises state officials have given teachers regarding raises, many of which, he said, didn’t come true.

&uot;There’s always a reason these raises aren’t done,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;All through my years here, they start out talking about a certain percent raise. Then what you really end up getting is not what you thought you were getting.

&uot;There are just so many years you can hear, ‘Wait until next year.’ It hurts.&uot;

The ironic thing, said Hathaway, is that he moved to Concordia Parish 31 years ago for higher pay.

&uot;I taught a year in Rankin County and was making $4,900,&uot;&160;Hathaway said. &uot;I came home (to Natchez) and there was an ad in the paper saying teachers started at $6,300. I jumped at it.&uot;

Making ends meet

Hathaway makes a base salary of $31,000, but with a check he gets for participating in years of professional improvement (PIPS) courses and an additional $150 a month for sponsoring the yearbook, he makes $33,100.

Although Hathaway is single, he owns a house and car and a $332 insurance bill for both, due quarterly. That is not including utilities, credit cards, paying off school credit union loans and trying to save a little bit for a rainy day.

Until 1988, he made a little more by doing yard work at two antebellum houses, but he had to stop doing that work. &uot;I’m 53 and I’ve had heart surgery,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;It’s harder to pull weeds now than it was then.&uot;

Finances are stretched even more taut at Vaught’s house. Her check pays for life insurance, two health insurance plans and a dental plan, her children’s college expenses and groceries. Her husband’s income and loans pay for other expenses, like car and house notes. To help pay college expenses, Vaught is applying to teach summer school this summer.

Juggling tasks

And a teacher’s schedule involves much more than the teaching itself, said Hathaway and Vaught.

For Vaught, there are lessons plans to grade on the weekends, parent conferences, and even training to attend to learn how to care for a diabetic student in case of emergency.

That is in addition to the story times, learning centers, physical education, carloading and recess duties and stacks of paperwork that are part of her normal day.

&uot;And along the way, I&160;try to give (my students) a little bit of positive reinforcement each day,&uot;&160;Vaught said. &uot;For some of them, that might be the only hug they get all day.&uot;

For a high school teacher like Hathaway, the year includes plenty of extra duties, such as taking tickets and other tasks at football, baseball and basketball games. One period a day — sometimes carrying over into his planning period — he works with students to publish the yearbook.

Each night includes two hours devoted to grading and to lesson plans, though he considers himself luckier than most because many of his classes cover similar material. And since February, he has stayed after school until 6:30 p.m. grading his seniors’ journals.

&uot;I teach 128 students, so I&160;have a lot of grading,&uot;&160;Hathaway said.

And this time of year, he is involved in many other activities as well, including lining up students and handing other diplomas at graduation, helping supervise graduation practice, attending a baccalaureate service and helping with an honors banquet.

&uot;I&160;stayed after school cooking baked potatoes for that one,&uot;&160;Hathaway said.

Hathaway, with 30 years in the system, could retire comfortably — but, like Vaught, he loves to teach.

&uot;Most of us who teach do so because we love the kids and we love our teaching situation here,&uot;&160;Hathaway said. &uot;We couldn’t ask for better kids.&uot;

And he balks at the idea of moving away for more pay, even to his native Natchez. &uot;After so many years here, (Concordia Parish) is home.&uot;

Wish lists and future concerns

Still, both teachers say an extra $3,000 is definitely needed. Vaught wouldn’t have to take out such large loans. Hathaway believes he could afford not to sponsor the yearbook staff, which he has done since 1972, and could spend that time planning for his classes.

But Vaught said she is not only concerned about her paycheck, but about the problem of attracting certified teachers to Concordia Parish.

Updated figures weren’t available as of Friday, but earlier this spring the district had 18 uncertified teachers. Having lower salaries than richer districts makes it difficult to attract teachers, according to Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman.

&uot;Many of teachers in Louisiana are here because their families live here or they’re close to retirement and aren’t going to pick up and move now,&uot;&160;Vaught said.

&uot;And once they retire, nobody’s going to want to come teach in Louisiana.&uot;