BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Teachers, bus drivers and other East Baton Rouge school employees took to the streets in front of the School Board office Thursday evening. They were there to support a resolution that would end an industrial property tax exemption and divert the money to their paychecks.
Board members decided to defer the resolution, effectively giving it little chance of passing in the future.
"It's a shame that we haven't had a raise in 10 years," said Alexandra Clark. "You know, we have the cost of inflation, we're basically losing money."
Clark said she loves her job as a school psychologist, but making ends meet has gotten harder.
"I've had several side jobs over the last few months. I've bartended on the side. I've sold insurance on the side," Clark said.
"Right now we're ranked 49th between Oklahoma and Arizona for teacher pay," explained Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.
That teachers' union partnered with Together Baton Rouge and the EBR Federation of Teachers to get the resolution onto the agenda for Thursday night's televised meeting. The proposal would end the state's Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) in East Baton Rouge, freeing up around $28 million that could be used for raises, according to Together Baton Rouge.
"We've got needs. Texas doesn't do this. Mississippi doesn't do this. They don't give away school money for exemptions," said Jennifer Carwile, Together Baton Rouge executive board member.
But representatives from the chemical industry and the small companies support by it said ending ITEP would have disastrous consequences.
"I definitely think that our teachers need a pay raise. They deserve a pay raise," said Rebecca Mouk, president of Ascension Roofing & Fabrication. "But we need ITEP to keep our small businesses and medium-sized businesses running."
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, and the Louisiana Chemical Association all opposed the measure.
With the school system facing a $10 million budget deficit, there's no guarantee money from the ITEP resolution would even go to employee salaries if it passed.
Meaux said teachers will not give up the fight anytime soon. Another rally is scheduled for Monday.
"We can make sure that (the board) understands that we know where we rank, and that we need to do better. We must do better for the kids of East Baton Rouge Parish," she said.