Washington Parish School System cancels Tuesday classes, staff on strike

Published 10:55 am Tuesday, August 29, 2023

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The Washington Parish School System issued an announcement on Monday evening announcing the cancellation of classes for students on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

According to a Facebook update, the school closure is attributed to “unforeseen circumstances” and “employees shall report to work at their normal time.”

Another widely circulated social media post earlier in the day brought attention to a meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the Washington Parish Fairgrounds. This meeting was said to address concerns about pay raises for teachers within the parish.

The information contained in this post, which is not officially associated with the Washington Parish School System, indicated that employees have reportedly been without a salary increase since 1978.

Furthermore, the post stated that the school board had recently approved the 2024 budget, where reportedly a salary raise was approved for central office workers but did not extend to teachers, custodians, secretaries, aides, lunchroom workers, bus drivers and other staff.

A source familiar with the situation reached out to The Bogalusa Daily News with a list outlining the demands of these workers:

“Washington Parish School System employees demand:

1. The immediate release of an itemized list of all positions at the central office, their salary, and job descriptions for comparison with other districts.

2. Central office employees to forfeit raises until teachers can be fairly compensated with NO further raises in foreseeable future.

3. The school board to stop creating positions at the school board office and eliminate extra positions to put those funds towards fair compensation.

4. To stop funding out of state trips/conferences for employees. These funds have better use elsewhere. It is a slap in the face for teachers to see pictures of board funded trips to the beach, Las Vegas, and Disney World while teachers struggle to pay their bills.

5. To stop paying thousands for guest speakers to come in when teachers can barely afford the cost of living.

6. That VAM stipends be paid to the teachers who rightfully earned them as well as a written explanation of where the VAM funds have gone over the past several years since no teachers received them.

7. Teachers shall receive their yearly step increases.

8. The immediate end of prorated pay for agriculture teachers over the summers.

9. All teachers should have duty free lunches.

10. Teachers/employees should be compensated for after hour duties worked (ball games, dances, etc.).

11. Accountability for employees at the central office- cameras and key cards. Their time and work load should be accounted for.

12. A cap on the number of preps allowed per teacher. Teachers should not have more than three different class preps.

13. All schools should have resource officers and better security measures, especially the outlying rural schools with longer response times.

14. There should be no focus meetings during planning periods.

15. A job description and list of duties performed by the athletic director backed up with evidence to support his yearly stipend for this position. The parish athletic director position is held by a high school school principal, which is a conflict of interest for other schools in the parish. Additionally, there is no evidence that this athletic director has ever acted favorably towards other schools or helped other schools in the parish.”

At this juncture, there is no official confirmation from the Washington Parish School System of any connection between the school cancellation and the meeting addressing pay raises.

A demonstration was planned for Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 9 a.m. in front of the school board office, where over 100 Washington Parish School System staff are picketing.

“The school board has called a special meeting on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. at the Franklinton Primary School auditorium to address some of the needs,” said Superintendent Frances Varnado said.

According to Varnado, all students will return to classes on Wednesday, Aug. 30 with the exception of pre-kindergarten students.

Update: As of 11:33 a.m., this article has been edited to include the staff’s list of demands provided by an anonymous source and a comment from Superintendent Frances Varnado.