Dispute over BESE funding request

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) submitted the 2019-20 Minimum Foundation Program formula and resolution this week, outlining their request for public school funding in the upcoming legislative session.

If approved, teachers will receive a $1,000 pay raise, a $500 raise for support staff and an overall $39 million increase will be appropriated to individual school districts, Gary Jones, BESE president, said in a news release.

The resolution is in line with Governor John Bel Edward’s expressed plan to bring Louisiana teachers steadily up to the Southern pay average, in which they are approximately $3,000 below. Though the resolution was adopted unanimously by BESE, the funding amount for salaries was met with varying opinions during the MFP Task Force meeting in February.

Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, offered a motion during the meeting to increase teacher salaries by $3,000 and support personnel by $1,500. Based on estimated surpluses and past budgets, Courville said he believes the state can afford to triple what they’ve recommended to the legislature.

“Politicians have been saying, ‘We’re broke.’ It’s not the truth.”

Barring the new Amazon.com tax, which has yet to be examined, according to Courville, this year’s surplus is estimated to be over $300 million. Therefore, starting salary discussions at the low end is no way to negotiate, he said. “If you don’t ask for more, you sure as hell aren’t going to get it.”

The motion failed with both the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators abstaining from the vote. Courville accused both unions of putting politicians’ plans of “spreading it (surplus dollars) out” ahead of the best interests of those it represents — K-12 educators.

“It’s outrageous to me…Our unions are in bed with legislators and for only a grand!”

Debbie Meaux, LAE president, said the decision to abstain on Courville’s motion was in an effort to ensure teachers see a definite raise in the upcoming year. “My goal is to make sure they have an increase. Is it what we want? No. But I am not going to jeopardize the chance of getting some sort of increase just because I want pie in the sky.”

She refuted Courville’s claims on the MFP formula process saying, “It’s not a negotiating process at all. It’s a very defined process.” The formula must pass through both BESE and the legislature. The spring session does not provide enough time for a “back and forth” between the two parties, she said.

“If the MFP itself doesn’t make it through the process, we revert back to this year’s funding, which means educators and school districts will not get any increases.”

Noting the state of the nation in regard to teacher strikes, Meaux said LAE is “adamant about getting to the Southern average.” It is not currently advocating statewide job actions in light of the favorable political climate towards salary increases; however, if no increases take place, she said rallies or work-stoppages may occur “spontaneously.”

Larry Carter, president of LFT, agreed with Meaux’s remarks noting that both organizations have been fighting for over 20 years for employee raises. The abstention is a signal of the commitment, he said.

“Of course, $3,000 even $10,000, is deserved; but it was really about being reasonable. We want to be reasonable about how to distribute money across education.”

Higher education, early childhood and various other educational needs will be vying for the surplus funds, Carter said. Requesting that all the money be allocated for K-12 salaries would jeopardize the funding chances for all educational agencies in the state, some of which are represented by LFT.

“We don’t want to be pitted against higher education or early childhood. There’s going to be a lot of different needs and K-12 is not the only need.”

The BESE resolution also voices support for the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission’s request to allocate $86 million towards the state’s quality early education access crisis. The legislative session begins April 8.

‘Is it what we want? No. But I am not going to jeopardize the chance of getting some sort of increase just because I want pie in the sky.’

Debbie Meaux

LAE president

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