Vidrine says teacher raise could mean preschool closure in Monroe

A bill to give teachers a $1,000 a year raise is being debated in the Louisiana Legislature, but if the bill passes and teachers actually get a raise, Monroe City School Superintendent Brent Vidrine says he may be forced to cut out Pre-K classes in the district, to cover the benefits of the raise.

Rep. Katrina Jackson said Thursday that the legislature is close to making a deal to give teachers a raise and raise the Minimum Foundation Program’s funding for schools, but there is a snag. She said many of the Republican members of the house favor giving teachers a raise, but a $500 raise for non-certified school personnel such as clerical workers, service workers, degreed professionals, and sabbaticals.

Jackson said the fate of the raise is touch and go as things change daily.

While that’s working itself out, superintendent Brent Vidrine told members of the board’s curriculum committee Monday that if the pay raise for teachers is granted, it would cost the board approximately $1.5 million in benefits outside of the raise, an amount, he says could only be made up by dropping its 17 preschool classes.

Vidrine says the district has not had an increase in MFP funding from the state in ten years, but early education while needed is not funded in the MFP.

“Since 2008 we have received one time increased funding from the state of Louisiana. We’ve seen an increase one time in ten years in our budget.  We are still operating on 2009 dollars. I hear every representative talk about early education and talk about how valuable it is, from Mike Waldsworth to Katrina Jackson talking about how valuable it is and I say, ‘How much money do you put in it? Zero,” said Vidrine

“As you know Monroe City Schools funds 17 of 23 Pre-K classes inside of our district. Very few districts fund it. We are one of the few districts in the state of Louisiana that commits almost $2.5 of our general fund to that right there. I worry about that because if we ever have to cut, cutting out Pre-K would be the first place because it’s not funded by the state,” said Vidrine.

The $1,000 raise for teachers wouldn’t take care of the fringe benefits for the teachers, that would have to be absorbed by local districts. Vidrine says the district would be forced to eliminate unfunded initiatives like Pre-K to balance the loss.

“It’s not looking good right now. But if they don’t put that 1.35 in there, who’s going to pay the benefits?” asked Vidrine.

SCR 3 contains a provision to increase the per-pupil amount given to schools from $3,961 per pupil to $4,015, an increase of 1.375 percent. However, that amount as well as whether to fund support personnel and non-certified teachers is the subject of debate.

If the state doesn’t absorb the benefit-cost in addition to the salary, “that $1,000 raise is going to cost our district over a million dollars in benefits that we don’t have today,” he said.