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New report finds Livingston Parish Schools' employees are among lowest paid in surrounding districts

2 months 3 weeks 5 days ago Thursday, March 28 2024 Mar 28, 2024 March 28, 2024 5:33 PM March 28, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

LIVINGSTON PARISH - Twenty million dollars is the magic number Livingston Parish Public Schools need to give underpaid employees raises, and that money doesn't exist.

In 2023, LPPS attempted to get a one percent sales tax passed in local elections that would aid employee salaries. The sales tax was turned down by voters. One school board member said he believes this is a product of the public's distrust.

To affirm the majority of opposing voters that the school district does not have $20 million lying around, LPPS hired a third-party consulting firm, LEAN Frog, to perform a complete audit on the school system.

The report's findings are exactly what one school board member expected.

"But I can tell you right now, I knew before that there wasn't 20 million, and this proves there's no 20 million," said Jeff Cox, the school board member from District 6.

The biggest finding LEAN Frog found is that "the district's failed one-cent sales tax increase proposal would have allowed LPPS to give a 10 percent pay raise or minimum $2,500 annual increase to all employees," the report read.

Another key finding of the report was LPPS teachers being paid among the lowest in the surrounding area, with starting pay eight percent lower than other districts. Additionally, more than 25 percent of district leaders, principals and custodial and technology staff are eligible for retirement next year.

Overall, 90 percent of employees are paid less than other districts.

To perform the audit, LEAN Frog compared LPPS to six other school district areas: Tangipahoa, East Baton Rouge, Ascension, St. Tammany, Central and Zachary.

"When you got a budget that's over $200 million and almost 90 percent of your budget is salary and benefits, that kind of tells you how much money it takes to give people a raise," Cox said.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Tia Mills spoke out on behalf of educators last year when the sales tax did not pass. She still believes teachers and school employees being fairly compensated is in the public's hands.

"What people need to understand is that this educator shortage, and when I mean educator, I'm not just talking about teachers, I'm talking about the support workers as well," Mills said. "This is not just a statewide issue, this is a nationwide issue, and in order for individuals to remain in the profession, we have got to have competitive salaries."

When comparing LPPS to the six other districts, the report found that 38 of the 40 benchmark positions — including teachers, principals, accountants, nurses, social workers and maintenance workers — were paid below peer districts averages. In total, more than 90 percent of the district's employees have salaries lower than their peers in other districts.

Cox said $20 million is needed to compensate those employees and is exactly what LPPS attempted to get but was rejected by the very parents of its students.

"I can tell you right now, there's not much we can do that's gonna raise that kind of money other than a sales tax," Cox said. "We can't do this without the public... It's their kids, it's their grandkids. And all, a lot of them, who are in our schools, we want to have their trust and everything. That's the whole reason we wanted to go ahead and do this."

"The community, the general public, may not necessarily trust the district. That is unfortunate," Mills said. "Because if you trust the district with your students, you should be able to trust the fact that they're telling the truth and stating that there is a lack of resources, and that the salaries, the funding, is just not available to support salaries."

Whether the sales tax returns to ballots again "remains to be seen," according to Cox. But in the meantime, Livingston Parish Schools will do everything they can to take care of its employees.

"We're gonna do everything we can to try to get everything, that we squeeze every nickel we can out of the budget to try to get them a little bit more any way," Cox said. 

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