It’s a given that Caddo Parish teachers are underpaid, and that a pay raise for these front line warriors in the ever growing challenge of educating youth is long overdue. The Caddo Parish School Board (CPSB) has been struggling with funding for a raise to take effect before they face the reality of re-election next fall. This political reality is seemingly the underlying motivation for the Board’s concerted push for ways to fund the pay raise for the 2017-2018 school year,-come hell or high water.
The initial discussions for finding the estimated $12.3 million dollars needed for a five (5%) per cent raise included the elimination of school librarians, outsourcing janitorial services, raising health insurance costs and increasing student-teacher ratios in classrooms. Staff reductions always cause angst, and this was especially true among teachers who value school librarians as part of the educational process. Increasing the employee share of health insurance benefits would hit retirees who continue to receive coverage under district health plans because they would see the premium and out-of-pocket expenses increase without the benefit of the pay raise given to employees. And in a similar fashion increased health care costs for current employees would diminish the real effect of any pay raise.
The recommendations to the Board included a reduction in schools that were overstaffed as determined by the staffing formula used by the school district. This recommendation noted that numerous school are presently over staffed, meaning that they have more teachers than the school allotment. A savings of $3 million dollars per year would result by limiting all school to the staffing formula.
Another area identified for additional revenue is the reduction of MFP funding designated for the Child Nutrition Program. Currently the district allocates an excess of over $1.9 million dollars more than the required MFP funding. The district will receive an additional $1 million dollars from a new funding program, which will allow for additional revenue of $1 million dollars per year.
The district currently bills Medicaid for allowable services provided to special needs students. Medicaid is now allowing transportation costs and the school board staff estimates an additional three ($300,000) thousand dollars to be received in the next school year.
And the bulk of the funds, i.e. $8 million per year, is to be achieved by using future reserves anticipated from future claims. This scenario is anticipated to mitigate any premium changes until March 2019 which will be after next the elections next fall. What course of action the Board will then take is pretty limited and most likely would be both premiums hikes as well as increases in out-of-pocket expenses.
The staff report presented to the Board at their April meeting noted that recent medical management changes had resulted in exceptional growth of the healthcare reserves that would allow the utilization of these extra funds for teacher pay raises. The report noted that premium adjustments and/or out-of-pocket expense changes may become necessary before April 2019 in a worst case scenario and in such a case, the utilization of potential future reserves would be a "reasonable risk."
The School Board's plan to fund the pay raises is a desperate move to avoid making hard decisions on school closures and staff reductions. In effect, this "kick the can down the road" approach typifies the Board continually makes only the "necessary" decisions on hard issues and delays reality. The rationale of funding a pay raise for less than two years from anticipated future reserves without a plan for what's next is questionable if not irresponsible. Seemingly the only justification for this strategy is to avoid employee backlash at the polls next fall when the school board members run for re-election. If Caddo voters needed any other justification for electing an entire new School Board next fall, these voodoo economics should tell the tale.