Unions want session to raise taxes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

AP and staff reports

The state’s two teacher unions, representing about 40,000 school employees, want a special legislative session to raise taxes for teacher pay. Without a session, one union says a statewide teacher strike is possible.

Such a session is not likely, Sen. Jay Dardenne, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Wednesday as the teacher union officials decided what to do.

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Gov. Mike Foster said he would not call a special session without a commitment from two thirds of the lawmakers to pass taxes.

”There is a frustration and an anger among teachers that is rapidly reaching a boiling point,” Fred Skelton, executive director of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said.

Skelton called his executive board into a private meeting one day after the voters rejected the governor’s tax swap package that was to fund pay raises for teachers and university professors.

The package would have abolished the sales tax on food and utilities and raised the income tax. The net gain of $200 million in the first year and more in later years, would have gone to education salaries.

Actually, many Concordia Parish teachers said Wednesday that, even before Tuesday’s vote, they were resigned to the fact that the Stelly Plan would not pass — and felt they didn’t know enough about it.

&uot;I was sorry that it didn’t pass, but not surprised,&uot;&160;said Nancy Anders, a teacher at Ferriday High School. &uot;I don’t think there was enough publicity about the plan.&uot;

&uot;I didn’t hear a lot of discussion about it before the election,&uot; said Elizabeth Boothe, a teacher at Vidalia High.

Many teachers who did know details of the plan felt that it did not give teachers a &uot;secure promise&uot; of a pay raise, Boothe said.

&uot;When they passed gambling, they said a certain percent would go to teacher pay, and then they just cut in other areas of education,&uot;&160;Boothe said. &uot;Politicians have tried to play us before.&uot;

Wilma McKeever, president of the Concordia Federation of Teachers, said she plans to poll her association’s members starting today on what action they want to take in response to the failure of the Stelly Plan.

The Louisiana Association of Educators had a conference call meeting with its board members but skirted any talk about a possible strike. But, LAE president Carol Davis said ”there is no time for empty protests” from lawmakers.

DeShay Rushing, president of the Concordia Association of Educators, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Skelton said a strike is always a last resort but if the Legislature ”does not act responsibly,” the state LFT convention on Nov. 20 may make such a decision.

The convention might choose, in lieu of a strike, to have various sickouts, picket legislative offices or even try to recall legislators who are not willing to help teachers, said Skelton.

”Teachers are not radical people but there is a point when you break a person’s back,” Skelton said after the executive board meeting.

As his board listened, Skelton told reporters that the meeting had been heated, that some members had wanted to strike.

The Legislature last summer considered a number of sin tax measures and business taxes that could have funded pay raises for teachers and faculty, Skelton noted.

”They think more of beer than education,” Skelton added, referring to the Legislature’s refusal to raise the beer tax that has not been increased in 52 years. Gambling and business taxes also were rejected.

Dardenne, a member of the legislative leadership that Skelton wants to meet with, said a session ”is very unlikely.”

”My sense is that the public, right or wrong, believe we have enough money and we should redirect our priorities. I don’t entirely disagree,” said the Baton Rouge Republican.

Dardenne said there are members of the public who have feelings ranging from a dislike of taxes for any reason to those who just do not want to pay more to teachers.

”Even if we convinced voters that we had a financial burden, I’m not sure they would say, ‘OK, let us give you more money.”’

Foster said as the vote results were coming in that teachers may well strike and while not recommending it, he certainly understands their feelings.

”We ask them to do more with accountability but we’re not willing to even pay them an average salary,” said Foster.