Emergency Washington Parish school board meeting held amid strike

Published 12:20 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

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The Washington Parish school system convened an emergency school board meeting in the Franklinton Primary School auditorium on Thursday night in response to an ongoing employee strike that began this past Tuesday.

The auditorium was full of concerned citizens, parents, and employees of the Washington Parish school system.

The board meeting began with a slideshow presentation from Director of Finance Dana Knight. The presentation broke down the general fund revenue budget of the school system.

Knight addressed a claim made during the period of the strike that employees in the district had not received a raise since 1978, stating that the last pay increase for employees took place during the 2022-2023 school year, with a $1,500 raise for certificated employees and a $750 raise for support employees.

“I went back in our records. The records I have in the office go back to 1993. Over that period of time, we’ve documented how many pay raises were given during that period,” said Knight. “In 17 different school years there was a pay raise for certificated employees, and 12 for support employees.”

In addition to these reported pay raises since 1993, Knight cited that there were 17 instances of stipends and supplements for certificated employees and 20 for support employees.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Thomas said that she has noticed an issue with step increases, where some employees are not receiving their step increases every year.

“That’s something that the board has acknowledged and we know, and that’s being fixed immediately,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that the parish is working to find additional revenue to address the concerns of those on strike.

“We have to look at our checkbook just like you have to look at your checkbook right now,” Thomas said. “We have to look at what we can do to cut some costs, and I’ve heard some things out there that we definitely need to look at.”

Thomas also claimed that a significant part of the difference in funding between Washington Parish schools and other school district lies in the industry of the parishes.

“Look at their industry. Look at ours. We don’t have it,” Thomas said. “When you think of Bogalusa, they have a paper machine.”

Following Knight’s presentation, the board opened the meeting for comments and concerns from the public.

Calvin Wheat, a local church pastor, spoke on behalf of custodial workers. Wheat said that custodians were requesting pay raises, more paid days off during holidays, a two-week paid vacation without taking a leave and for all employees, a 10% annual cost of living raise derived from the average of all salaries combined.

“Oct. 2 is National Custodian Day, and one of the requests that was made known twice is that they were asking for a day of appreciation,” Wheat said.

Bianca Jenkins, a former employee of the Washington Parish school system, spoke on behalf of teachers. Teachers are requesting that they are compensated for the work they do outside of contractual hours, as well as uninterrupted planning time and duty-free lunches.

“If raises aren’t available for all employees, raises shouldn’t be available for any employees,” Jenkins said.

Superintendent Frances Varnado said she heard and documented every complaint and is meeting with her team Friday morning, just as they have been doing since Tuesday, to meet people’s demands.

The board created a committee that includes two people to represent each employee group; that group was set to meet this morning to come up with monetary and non-monetary proposals which the board plans to share at next Thursday’s school board meeting.

No timeline was given on when employees would see a potential raise.