State union officials sound off

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 4, 2001

Last week, officials of Louisiana’s two teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, discussed recent teacher sickouts and their unions’ demands for raises for teachers and support employees.

Question: What effect do you believe teacher sickouts taking place throughout Louisiana have had on state officials?

LFT spokesman Les Landon: I think (sickouts) are having a big effect. Before Christmas, (Gov. Mike) Foster said there was no way to come up with a pay raise. He said there was no sentiment for it. But now he’s about to call the Legislature into a special session to consider a plan. And we need to keep the pressure on them. It’s like the old guy that keeps hitting his mule on the head with a board. Another guy came along and said &uot;What are you doing that for?&uot; And the first guy said, &uot;Well, first you’ve got to get their attention.&uot;

LAE President Carol Davis: I&160;think we’ve gotten the legislators’ attention focused. We’ve focused the public’s attention. They realize we’re serious.

Question: Have the teacher unions proposed ways the state could raise the money for a raise for teachers and support employees? If so, what?

Davis: Last year, the Legislature held a regular session, and after that two special sessions. During that time, 144 different proposals were discussed. Surely with those 144 ways they could come up with one they could support. But instead, they’re putting the burden on us (teachers) to teach, boost student achievement, and do professional development. If (lawmakers) need help, we’ll be glad to help, … but they haven’t asked for input. They’ve just thrown the question at us: &uot;How do you expect us to come up with this?&uot;

Landon: We (LFT officials) have talked about that, and if we were appointed to the Legislature to come up with plan we would. But it’s lawmakers’ responsibility to come up with a plan. And they should be held accountable.

Question: How much of a raise are your unions asking for? And aren’t the pay raises teachers have received in recent years – $1,200 in 1997 and $1,200 more two years ago – enough?

Landon:&160;They aren’t enough when you look at the regional average, and when we’re losing teachers to Texas every day, and when teachers can go just across the state line to Natchez and make more (money). It’s market economics. There’s competition. We have to pay the going rates or we’re not going to get qualified teachers.

We’re asking for $3,000 for teachers and $1,500 for support employees. And one of our big sticking points is that they don’t have a plan for giving support employees raises.

Davis: It’s not enough because we’ve been promised the Southern average and, despite two raises, we’re still not there. And it’s not just the money – it’s the future of education for the children of this state, access to certified, qualified teachers. It can’t continue like this.

Also, the last support workers raise was $350 four years ago, and their insurance has gone up more than that. They’re $2,300 behind the Southern average. But there’s nothing on the table now for support workers.