Directing of school aid disputed

Educators disagreed Tuesday on whether any hike in state aid for public schools should require that some of the money finance teacher pay raises.

Leaders of two teacher unions urged a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to include the requirement in its request to the Legislature.

Several superintendents said any increase should be enacted without strings to allow local school districts to address pressing financial needs.

Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said her colleagues “absolutely need that flexibility” in any funding package approved by the 2014 Legislature.

BESE is preparing its school funding request for the 2014-15 school year, which is then submitted to the Legislature.

A task force recently endorsed a 2.75 percent increase in state aid for public schools, which is about $70 million.

The panel, over the objections of teacher leaders, said local districts should be left to spend the money as local officials choose, especially since state aid was essentially frozen for five years until 2013.

Retirement, health care, technology and other costs have sparked years of complaints from superintendents and others about the need for relief.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said he is aware of those concerns.

But salary steps for teachers were also frozen for five years and, if the issue is left to local school boards, “there will be no real negotiations on how the money will be used.”

He added, “It is having an effect on teachers and educators. We are going to lose some good people and we have.”

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, noted that teachers benefitted from half of the $69 million in new school aid that the Legislature approved last year.

Without a boost this time, Meaux said, teachers will feel like they are experiencing a pay cut.

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system and a task force member, backed the panel’s call for a school aid increase without any strings.

The key issues in any request to the Legislature, Faulk said, is for it to be constitutional and equitable.

“There are going to be winners and losers,” he noted.

State aid for public schools is allocated through a funding method called the Minimum Foundation Program.

The state is spending $3.5 billion in the current school year.