Jefferson Parish Voters made an investment in their future on May 4th when voters chose to raise property taxes by $28.8 million to benefit public education. Jefferson Parish has the largest public-school system in Louisiana with almost 50,000 students. The tax increase, plus $4.5 million in cuts from other expenditures, will give a raise to most employees within the parish’s school system. Cade Brumley, superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Public School System, said the vote was a big vote of confidence from the people of Jefferson Parish. Not long after taking over as superintendent in 2018, Brumley worked to establish a new strategic plan titled “2024: The Future Our Kids Deserve.” However, Brumley felt his plan, which calls for an improvement of the district’s performance score from a C to an A by 2024, would be unattainable without the changes that voters approved. “The vote is an expression of the parish as a whole believing in the direction we’re going,” Brumley said.

While the pay raise for teachers and support staff is important, Brumley emphasized that it is not just about an across-the-board teacher raise. Early career teachers will receive a pay bump, which will make it easier for recruiters to bring young talent into the school system. Schools where 90% of the students are classified as economically disadvantaged or have a significant ESL (English as a Second Language) population will offer a $2,000 hiring incentive Additional stipends will be given to teachers who run after-school, summer and weekend programs with their students. Educators who fill the areas of greatest need in the schools will also be offered hiring incentives. Brumley said these positions include math, ESL, special education andscience. Teachers in those fields will receive a $1,000 per year supplement for their work. Teachers who earn good evaluations throughout the year and whose students do well on the state tests will receive a performance payout.

As important as the pay is for teachers, Brumley said it’s just as important for Jefferson Parish as a whole. When public education is strong, crime rates go down, the healthcare service system improves and property values increase.

“As the quality of education improves, so does the standard of living,” Brumley said.

Local business leaders agree with the superintendent. The vote was welcome news for the Jefferson Business Council. Tony Ligi, executive director for Jefferson Business Council, said there are many reasons to be happy with the voters’ choice. “Having a better system of public education is important in attracting businesses to Jefferson Parish,” Ligi said. “It provides us with a better-educated workforce.”

In addition, Ligi said strong public schools mean local employees will not have to worry about spending several thousand dollars a year to
send their children to private schools. If an area’s public schools are not viable, then employers have to take that into account when paying their employees, which costs companies more money. Ligi added that he liked how the new policy includes incentives to encourage teachers to pursue continuing education while teaching, which will attract not just teachers to Jefferson Parish, but better qualified teachers with a desire to improve themselves along the way.

It is important to remember that continuing education in the form of certification and advanced degrees costs money. Liz Basta, an ESL teacher at Riverdale High School, said her pay raise would help pay off the master’s degree she earned in order to becoming highly qualified in her high-need area of education. Basta added that the vote was not only about the money:

“The pay raise is more than just about money or a living wage,” Basta said. “It was really important for the morale of our faculty and staff.
For many of us, I believe it was a vote of confidence from the people of Jefferson Parish. It sent the message to us that we are valued for our work.” A living wage and morale are important components to not just attracting motivated teachers, but to keeping them. A sense of continuity and community is valuable to students at any school.

“I can’t begin to describe the detriment academically and emotionally to our students who see teachers leave year after year, and sometimes mid- year,” said Basta. “Most of my students are surprised when I sincerely promise them in May that I will be there in August because they are so used to seeing teachers leave.”

Brumley echoed Basta’s sentiment about the importance of retaining teachers. He said the Jefferson Parish Public School System loses 40% of its new teachers after just one year of teaching and loses 30% of its experienced teachers every year. The new salaries and incentives will help improve those numbers.

The superintendent is hopeful for the future of Jefferson Parish Schools. With a new plan, a newly elected school board, and the funding to attract and retain high-quality teachers, he believes that better days lie ahead.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Brumley said. “We have to capitalize on the energy we have right now to get better outcomes for our kids.” 

Jefferson Review, by Fritz Esker