Teachers: Is $2,000 enough?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Lawmakers’ approval of bills to raise teacher salaries an average of $2,000 starting with the 2001-2002 school year is a good start – but just a start, said Concordia Parish teachers.

&uot;It’s a good first step, a partial fulfillment of a promise,&uot; said Sharon Smith, an eighth-grade teacher at Ferriday Junior High. &uot;I think the majority of teachers are tired of empty promises, and I&160;don’t know if $2,000 will appease them.&uot;

Louisiana Association of Educators President Carol Davis has said that even $3,000 might be enough to stop teachers from conducting a &uot;job action&uot; such as a strike.

&uot;I do think this is a step in the right direction, but they still have not mentioned the support workers getting a raise yet,&uot; said JoAnn Gardner, president of the Concordia Federation of Teachers. &uot;And there’s still a long way to go. We’re still below the regional average.&uot;

The Legislature passed a bill Thursday to force the state’s 14 riverboat casinos to pay 3 percent more in state taxes, two days after passing a new contract for Harrah’s New Orleans casino.

The bills will raise $140 million a year for teacher and university professor raises, according to the Associated Press.

Revenues will go toward funding a $2,000 teacher pay raise for next fall, but it would take $3,600 to bring Louisiana teachers to the Southern regional average, a figure that lawmakers have pointed out is a moving target.

&uot;The raise is good. I’m glad to get it,&uot; said Tim Herndon, a science teacher at Vidalia High School.

But he said he does believe that a $2,000-a-year raise will be enough to stem the flow of education students choosing to work in other states with higher pay and more incentives.

Others, he said, choose to stay in the state but move to richer districts that can afford to better supplement teachers’ pay. &uot;There’ll be a huge teacher shortage – maybe not now, but five or six years down the road,&uot; Herndon said. &uot;A couple of thousand dollars is not going to compete with what they pay in other states.&uot;

And while teacher pay may increase, teachers have to perform more tasks and meet strict requirements for that money, teachers said.

&uot;In Louisiana, you have higher NTE (National Teacher Exam) requirements than in other states, and our teacher evaluation programs are tougher,&uot; Herndon said.

&uot;They’re adding three extra days to the school year in exchange for this raise,&uot; Smith said. &uot;If they’re not going to give us the full ($3,600), they ought to rescind those three days plus the two days they added the last time we got a small raise.

&uot;I’ve got to prepare students all year for the LEAP test,&uot; she said, referring to a test students in fourth and eighth grades must pass to advance to the next grade and not have to take remedial classes. &uot;All state officials worry about is paying for their pet projects.&uot;

Smith said she would also like to see lawmakers get a more solid source of funding for education than gambling.

Kristen Nunn, a fifth-grade teacher at Vidalia Upper Elementary, said she believes the $2,000 raise is a move in the right direction, and she is staying optimistic that more raises are ahead.

&uot;I think that as things progress and our educational system is Louisiana continues to get better, there will be more down the road,&uot; Nunn said. &uot;I’d like to think I can trust legislators to do what’s right.

&uot;I didn’t expect to get it all at one time. Then again, I’m new + I&160;haven’t been promised raises over and over. Let’s use this as a springboard&uot; for more raises, she said.