“We realized that it’s up to us,” said Red River United President Jackie Lansdale. “Given the economic conditions in the state, there will no pay raises for educators unless we make our case and show local school boards that they must find money for raises.”
Lansdale said the raise is a down payment to resolve the pay gap between teaching and other professions. In the decade between 1994 and 2015, that difference grew from two percent to 17 percent, she said.
RRU began its campaign for a pay raise by pointing out that salaries in Caddo Parish had slipped below those paid in neighboring school systems, Lansdale said.
“Our school board was crippling itself by offering new teachers the lowest salaries in the region,” she said. “Our job was to convince the school board that raising pay would be good for our schools and our children.”
The union explained to board members that, as the largest employer in Caddo Parish, school employees are an important engine of the local economy.
“We deposit our paychecks in local banks, shop at local stores, buy or rent our homes from local realtors and contribute to our churches and charities,” she said. “Competitive salaries attract high-quality teachers and school employees; low wages force them to look elsewhere.”
Even with logic on her side, Lansdale said, the pay raise was not an easy sell to board members struggling to balance their budget after years of stagnant state support.
“We had to convince the board that it was in the best interest of our children and our community that they use existing resources to fund this pay raise,” she said.
“We got every employee in the Caddo Parish school system to sign a postcard,” she said. “I delivered those cards to board members in a little red wagon.”
RRU members staged “walk-ins” at schools to demonstrate the importance of public education and the educators who serve the community’s children. T-shirts reinforced the union’s message. A social media campaign reminded board members that a vote for pay raises would be a good all-round investment for the community.
And it all came together on May 16, when the board unanimously agreed to use existing resources to pay for the five percent pay raise.
Lansdale said she hopes the victory will inspire educators in other school districts to take matters in their own hands and work for the salaries and respect that educators deserve.
“Baton Rouge has failed us,” she said. “We know that it’s up to us to work with our local leaders, solve our problems, and make sure our children get the excellent educations they deserve.”