The Investigators: Controversy over proposed tax for teacher pay raises

The Investigators: Controversy over proposed tax for teacher pay raises

POINTE COUPEE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Pointe Coupee school leaders are hoping a tax to increase teacher pay passes next weekend. However, there are questions about its intention and whether taxpayers are being tricked.

"We're just right on par with the lowest paid district in our area," said Pointe Coupee Schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine.

Lemoine said that's why they're asking voters to pass the proposed 10 mil property tax for 10 years, that means $4.5 million every year for 10 years.

Currently, Lemoine said the starting pay for Pointe Coupee teachers is $38,392. If the tax passes, he said teachers will get $5,000 on top of that every year and support staff would get a pay raise of $2,250.

"Every year, we spend numerous dollars trying to train these teachers with professional development only to watch these teachers grow, get better and leave us to other districts that pay them more," said Lemoine. "We've lost in this parish almost 50% of our teachers in the last two years to various reasons, some of which left to higher paying parishes."

But former Pointe Coupee teacher, Scott Allen, who now works at Iberville parish schools, said back in 1999, he worked at Livonia High school and said he even helped go door-to-door asking people to pass a $0.01 tax increase to help give him and all his colleagues a pay raise. It passed giving all teachers an additional check, or 13th check, every year with the pay raise.

"The teachers in 2000 did get a $3,300 pay raise," said Lemoine.

"They gave us a 13th check two years. They were approximately $2,000. After that, we didn't receive the checks," said Allen.

Allen said when everyone started asking where the money from the tax went...

Allen: They said they were using the funds to pay health care benefits.
Kiran: For the teachers?
Allen: For the teachers. We assumed when we got our check, our health care premiums would go down and they didn't. What we figured out is they were paying their portion of the health care benefits.

But Lemoine said they paid the 13th check up till 2004. In 2004, because there was not enough revenue generated from the special tax, the school board borrowed money from a bank to pay up and then realized they should not do that.

Since 2014 however, Lemoine said that tax has generated enough money and teachers have gotten their additional check. This year though, he said revenue from the special tax is down 10%.

The 1999 special tax was only meant to be spent on pay raises and benefits for teachers and other school personnel. But a 2005 audit found otherwise.

The State Legislative Auditor looked at the Pointe Coupee School Board. Their findings were that "...A significant amount of monies collected from the 1% sales tax, was spent for other purposes."

It went on to read if the special tax is spent on anything other than raises and benefits, it violates state law. Adding "dedicated sales tax monies totaling approximately $955,000 was spent for other purposes and was unavailable to pay the annual "13th" check to employees."

The audit also noted a lack of any clear records of how that special tax money was spent.

Kevin Bridgewater, who's a concerned parent, said somebody needs to be held accountable

"We've had mayors up and down the river that go to jail for less. So we got $955,000 misappropriated and nothing happens? Wow. Who do they know is what it boils down to. That's what the community is starting to think that we don't have a voice," said Bridgewater.

Bridgewater said he wants teachers to get a raise so Pointe Coupee can draw in certified teachers from other parishes, but he does not support this tax because of the past.

"Every tax that they've passed, they've found a way not to do what the tax says it's going to do," said Bridgewater.

"They're deceiving the public," said Allen.

Another concern some teachers and parents have is that the $5,000 pay raise would not be noted as their permanent salary. Instead, it'll be a supplement to their base pay.

Lemoine said because the tax would only be for 10 years, they would have to go back to taxpayers after a decade, but if it does not pass again, then the parish would have to pay the extra money.

The 10 mil property tax is on the April 9th ballot.

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