Lawmakers discuss school employees and the Jindal agenda

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(Baton Rouge - March 9, 2013) A panel of lawmakers agreed Saturday that the Jindal administration’s agenda hurts school employees and their families. Five members of the House of Representatives spoke at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ annual Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel Conference in Baton Rouge.

The PSRP Conference is the only state gathering that dedicated to the employees who make sure that students get to school safely and on time, eat nutritious meals, attend class in safe and clean classrooms, have accurate records and reports, and get the assistance they need to succeed in the classroom.

On issues ranging from school vouchers to public retirement systems, panel members said the Jindal agenda is an assault on the employees who make sure that students get to school safely and on time, eat nutritious meals, attend class in safe and clean classrooms, have accurate records and reports, and get the assistance they need to succeed in the classroom.

Participants were Reps. Herbert Dixon (Alexandria), Sam Jones (Franklin), Gene Reynolds (Minden), Patricia Smith (Baton Rouge) and Alfred Williams (Baton Rouge).

The panelists agreed that Gov. Jindal’s plans to change state retirement systems to a defined contribution, 401(k) type of system would be harmful to school employees.

Rep. Smith said that retired school employees deserve an income that will “sustain you so that you will not live in poverty.” That requires a steady income with regular cost of living raises, she said.

Arguing strongly against changing the system, Rep. Jones said, “It’s your retirement. You paid for it, it is a contract, and you earned it.”

Rep. Williams said that Gov. Jindal’s proposed tax overhaul promises to be as controversial as his education agenda has proven to be.

“The tax swap threatens your livelihood,” Rep. Williams said. If the state abolishes income taxes and raises sales taxes, he said, “Voters won’t support renewal of tax issues for education, recreation and other issues. How would we pay school employees? How would we pay teachers?”

Rep. Reynolds took on the whole issue of reform as practiced by the Jindal administration.

“Every governor has an idea of reform,” he said. “The legislature passes it, and when the governor leaves, it dies. These reforms become so burdened with paperwork that the next governor kicks them out.”

One issue that may be raised in the legislature is removing the right of unions to collect dues through payroll deduction. Rep. Dixon warned that employees would lose their voice if efforts to cut funding for unions are successful.

“Remember,” Rep Dixon said, “It was your dues that brought victories in district court,” a reference to recent rulings that key parts of Gov. Jindal’s education agenda are unconstitutional.

“Your executive board, using your dues money, activated the resources to fight back against the awful things that affected our system,” Rep. Dixon said.

Panelists also spoke about ways in which the governor’s voucher and charter school schemes affect school employees.

Non-public schools and charter schools do not have the same accountability as traditional public schools, which means they may not have to provide paraprofessional services, may privatize school nutrition programs or not provide meals at all, and may not hire employees for transportation, maintenance, custodial service, etc.