Teachers in St. James see pay raise

Published 11:45 pm Friday, June 29, 2012

By David Vitrano


LUTCHER – Employees of the St. James Parish School System will have a little extra spending money from now on as the School Board approved a salary schedule for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The new salary schedule includes an average raise of 2.5 percent for every employee. Additionally, employees will receive a $500 bonus on both July 1 and Dec. 1.

Because of a robust local tax base, St. James Parish has avoided some of the budget shortfalls other school districts in the state have experienced.

“It’s good to be able to share the blessings with the employees,” said Superintendent Alonzo Luce.

According to board member Patricia Schexnayder, the employees have not received a raise in three years.

Now that the salary schedule has been passed for the 2012-13 fiscal year, the school board must now turn its attention to creating a salary schedule for the following year based on newly passed state guidelines. That salary schedule must be complete by Dec. 31 and must be sent to the state for approval. To aid in putting the new salary schedule together, the board approved a request for proposals to hire a human resource consultant.

The school board also recently closed on a deal for a parcel of land near the intersection of Louisiana Highways 20 and 3127 where it plans to build the new St. James High Stadium. The deal also included a strip of land connecting it to Highway 3127 so there will be two access points to the location. The new stadium will be very similar to the stadium at Lutcher High School, right down to the artificial turf currently being installed there. According to Building Committee Chairman George Nassar, the installation of the artificial turf at Lutcher is slightly behind schedule because of recent rainfall, but he said he expects the project to be complete by the start of football season.

Work is also currently wrapping up at Gramercy Elementary School, where a magnet program will be held in the upcoming year, as well as at Paulina Elementary School, which will take in students from Romeville Elementary in the upcoming school year. Luce said he expects that school’s student population to grow to about 650 students next year. Consequently, portable classrooms at the site that were slated to be removed will remain in place for the time being. Both schools will see another round of construction soon to accommodate their growing needs.

The money for that construction is likely to come in part from $13.5 million in bonds approved by voters in April 2011.

Before the school board seeks to sell those bonds, however, it will try for an improved credit rating, according to bond attorney Hugh Martin.

“I think we will,” said Martin, adding, “Right now rating agencies really take a good look at local governments.”

A better credit rating will save taxpayer dollars in the form of lower interest rates.

A bid is expected to be approved at the Aug. 7 meeting, with an expected delivery date of Sept. 12.

Lastly, the board chose to go along with the administration’s suggestion to deny the application of Greater Grace Charter School.

According to a spokesman for the group trying to start the school, Pastor Larry Youngblood, “We seek to provide a school for children who struggle in the traditional setting. We’re not here competing. We want to help.”

Despite his arguments, many on the board felt there was just too much up in the air right now regarding public education to approve the charter. Additionally, Nassar pointed out that the group must do a little more research before trying to open a charter school in the parish.

Referring to the desegregation order that governs most aspects of education in the parish, he said, “Have you contacted the Justice Department to see if this is legal?”

When they replied “no,” he said, “I think that’s an avenue that has to be explored.”

School Board President Charles Nailor seemed confident the district could meet the needs of the students without outside help.

“I think the St. James Parish Public School System is really doing some unique things,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track to enhance our system.”