EBR teacher reps urging Taylor to rewrite salary schedule

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- East Baton Rouge Superintendent Bernard Taylor speaks to the Baton Rouge Press Club about improvements made in school scores in this September 2013 Advocate file photo taken at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- East Baton Rouge Superintendent Bernard Taylor speaks to the Baton Rouge Press Club about improvements made in school scores in this September 2013 Advocate file photo taken at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino in Baton Rouge.

Teacher stipends in dispute

Three groups that represent schoolteachers in East Baton Rouge Parish are urging Superintendent Bernard Taylor to rewrite a salary schedule that went into effect in August, particularly how it pays out stipends to teachers judged highly effective in the classroom.

In the fall, the school system learned that 36 percent of its teachers were considered highly effective for their work during the 2012-13 school year under the state’s new teacher evaluation system known as Compass. On Oct. 6, the system took out a full-page advertisement in The Advocate congratulating by name 1,113 highly effective teachers in the district.

It turns out some of those teachers earned little to nothing extra for their hard work.

In the little category were teachers with only bachelor’s degrees but who had spent more than 10 years in the classroom. They earned stipends of $63 compared with bachelors-only teachers in the first 10 years in teaching who earned $350. Teachers who had a masters degree or above, no matter what their experience levels, got $500 if they were judged highly effective.

In the nothing category were teachers who had taken more than the equivalent of 10 days of leave. Teachers who miss days because of professional leave, jury duty, military leave and annual leave weren’t affected. But teachers who missed time for other reasons, including those taking sick leave, earned no stipend at all.

Discontent about those issues and others involving employee pay has been building for months.

Keith Courville, the state executive director of Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, on Wednesday publicly urged Taylor to change the salary policy. A+PEL, which has about 150 members, is much smaller than the two other groups that represent teachers in Baton Rouge, both traditional teacher unions, and historically has been cautious about going public in such matters.

Courville said his group, which has about 7,000 members statewide and eschews the label of union, learned during recent school visits about discontent with the stipends.

In a news release, Courville focused his attention on the $63 stipend that bachelors-only teachers make if they fail to earn advanced degrees after 10 years in the classroom.

“We think this accomplishment is worth more than $350, but the least we can do is reward our veteran teachers the same amount for the same accomplishment as their peers,” Courville writes.

“We look forward to working with the district to fix this oversight,” he added

Keith Bromery, spokesman for the school system, said in a statement issued Friday that the stipend structure is justified. He said they were set up to encourage younger teachers to seek highly effective status early in their careers, not to “discourage teachers with longer tenures with the district” from pursuing the same achievement.

Bromery said the school system “encourages teachers to earn advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s degree as a way for them to stay current in the fields and disciplines they teach.”

Courville disagreed saying it wasn’t an incentive at all, but rather was “a penalty and a punishment” aimed at veteran teachers.

“Merit pay wasn’t intended to divide teachers like this,” he said.

Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Federation of Teachers, and Tia Mills, president of the rival East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators, said they have been hearing complaints from teachers for months about the salary schedules. They said they did not participate in the creation of the schedule and only saw it later once it was largely complete.

Washington said that he has requested a meeting with Taylor to discuss the issue but one has not yet been scheduled.

He said he also sent out a survey about the stipends over the holidays to teachers who belong to his organization. More than 200 responded, which is about 15 percent of the teachers, he said. More than 90 percent of those responding said they were against how the stipends penalize both veteran teachers with only bachelor’s degree as well as teachers who miss more than 10 days of school.

“In the words of one teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High, ‘What does $63 do? Buy a dinner for two at a cheap restaurant or fill up your car at a cheap gas station?’ ” Washington said.

Mills said she hasn’t asked for a meeting specifically on this topic, but has, along with Washington, asked Taylor to hold regular meetings with employee groups like hers, something she said has been done by past superintendents.

Mills also spoke out about the stipend problems at a Dec. 19 School Board meeting, when board member Barbara Freiberg raised several issues with the salary schedule.

“I think the whole salary schedule needs to be rewritten,” she said.

Taylor told The Advocate in late December that he is looking at ways to pay more to some but not all teachers affected by the new salary schedule as well as past pay freezes.

School districts throughout Louisiana were required to write new salary schedules to comply with 2012’s Act 1, passed by the state Legislature.

In January, state district Judge Michael Caldwell ruled the law unconstitutional, for the second time, and his ruling is on appeal. If upheld, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system will likely have to redo salary schedules yet again.

Ashley Rodrigue wrote a letter Jan. 9 to Taylor as well as all board members about her not receiving a stipend for the work that she did in 2012-13.

As a teacher at Scotlandville Elementary, she took off several partial days, more than 10 total as it turned out, to get medical help for an inner ear ailment known as Ménière’s disease, a malady that causes dizziness. Even so, she still was rated as highly effective.

This year, she’s on unpaid annual leave to recover and to complete her master’s degree online.

Rodrigue said knew nothing about the 10-day rule last year and was consequently unable to do anything to avoid triggering it.

She said she finally got a phone call from Taylor Friday to discuss her issue but said the superintendent defended the rule and gave her no encouragement.

“I just feel my district doesn’t care about the work I did last year,” she said.