Teachers tie ribbons for raises

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Almost 20 Louisiana educators and supporters tied yellow ribbons around oak trees in front of the old parish courthouse Tuesday to show support for raises for teachers and school employees.

&uot;We definitely need a raise, and at least this will raise public awareness of that,&uot; said Rose Walter, who teaches at Ferriday Lower Elementary.

&uot;And we hope the state officials, including Governor (Mike) Foster, will come through for us,&uot; added Ginger McNeely, who teaches at Ferriday’s lower and upper elementary schools.

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&uot;We’re hoping legislators will pass by and see this – and recognize how much we need a raise,&uot; said D’Shay Rushing, president of the Concordia Association of Educators, which sponsored the rally.

Louisiana Association of Educators chapters throughout the state have held similar yellow ribbon rallies in recent weeks, said LAE President Carol Davis. Davis attended Tuesday afternoon’s rally along with LAE Region 5 Representative Debbie Knapp.

Such rallies are being held eight months after 5,000 teachers and support employees, including 200 from Concordia, picketed at the State Capitol to call for raises.

And the rallies come just two months after voters rejected a tax swap package to fund pay raises for educators.

Since that election, teachers and school employees in several school systems throughout Louisiana have staged sickouts.

&uot;I think it’s important to note that we’re raising public awareness, but we’re doing it in a … non-confrontational way,&uot; said Sarah Cotton, who teaches at Vidalia Junior High.

The rallies are also being held to encourage the state to come up with enough money to bring Louisiana salaries up to the regional average – not pass the cost on to local districts.

Louisiana teachers make an average of $32,510 a year, compared to the Southeastern average of $37,819 and the national average of $40,582, according to the National Education Association. &uot;We’re concerned that local school systems will be forced to pick up the cost of raises,&uot; Davis said.

There is now a movement &uot;to take the money for raises out of the MFP, which would cost us $1.5 million, and you can imagine what that would do to our budget,&uot; said Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman. He was referring to the minimum foundation program, a program through state money is allocated to local school districts. If funds for raises are taken out of that money, that leaves less money for other educational costs.

Some public officials, including Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland and Concordia Parish Police Juror Carey Cook, also attended the rally.

&uot;I’m here to show that the Town of Vidalia is in total support of this organization and supports an increase in pay for teachers and support employees,&uot; Copeland said.

&uot;Why am I&160;here?&160;Because my wife’s a teacher,&uot; Cook said. &uot;And I want them to know that whatever the Police Jury can do for them, we’re behind them 100 percent.&uot;

CAE members and supporters have begun wearing yellow ribbons to call attention to their cause. They are also waging an e-mail campaign to press state lawmakers to vote for raises for teachers and school employees.