Teacher bonus decision delayed

The East Feliciana Parish School Board deferred action Tuesday on a move to deny bonuses to teachers no longer employed in the parish but who would be qualified for the extra pay for their performance in a special program last school year.

The board voted 8-4 to send the matter back to its Salary Committee for more study after hearing from two teachers affected by the proposal.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis wanted to pay bonuses only to eligible teachers who returned for the 2012-13 school year. Teachers who resigned or accepted a teaching job outside the parish would not be eligible.

The bonuses, a minimum of $2,000, are awarded to teachers participating in a teacher advancement program designed to reward teachers who receive good evaluations and whose students show performance gains.

The program’s formal name is TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a school reform developed by the Milken Family Foundation and now operated by a nonprofit group, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Funds for the bonuses come from several grants.

Katie Andrews said she was a TAP mentor teacher last year at East Feliciana Middle School and was promised a bonus, with no mention of having to return this year.

Andrews said she had been recruited by other school systems because of her students’ performance gains but turned them down until she was asked to teach at THRIVE Academy in Baton Rouge.

The academy is an inner-city boarding school that Andrews said honors a former student of hers at Jackson Elementary who was stabbed to death defending her younger sister from an attacker in 2011.

“I can’t help but feel a bit betrayed,” Andrews told the board.

Maya Bennett, a former master teacher at Jackson Elementary, said she and Andrews earned the bonuses through “our blood, sweat and tears,” and asked the board to “do the right thing.”

Bennett is selling real estate now, but said she is looking into returning to the school next semester.

She said she expected a bonus of $2,000 to $2,500, while Andrews said hers may have been higher than that.

Lewis, who joined the system in June, said he followed the board’s established procedures for awarding extra pay, such as periodic salary supplements from accumulated, dedicated taxes, which state that employees who leave the system are not eligible for the money.

He said any principal or representative of the state Education Department who said the bonuses would be paid to teachers who leave did not have the authority to make such a statement.

Lewis said he also views the extra money as an incentive for long-term commitments to the parish, adding that 40 teachers at the two participating schools were eligible but left the system.

In a later discussion, Lewis said East Feliciana Parish sent the teachers through special training, “and now they’re TAP experts in other systems.”

The board initially approved the plan on a voice vote before board President Michael Bradford realized Andrews wanted to speak.

After hearing from the two teachers and more discussion, members Olivia Harris, Beth Dawson, Melvin Hollins, Paul Kent, Mitch Harrell, Rhonda Matthews, Richard Terrell and Rufus Nesbitt voted to return the item to committee.

Ben Cupit, Bradford, Debra Spurlock Haynes and Broderick Brooks dissented.