"All week, we have been emailing [legislators], and we have been calling on the house floor," says Melinda Mangham, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators. "We have one of the strongest school districts in the state, and yet our delegation will not support the [proposed] teacher pay raise. I'm very frustrated with this delegation."
Of the five representatives whose districts cross into Lafayette Parish, Mangham says only Rep. Gill Pinac, who largely serves Acadia Parish, and north Lafayette Rep. Wilfred Pierre have indicated they may support the new smoking tax. Reps. Joel Robideaux, Don Trahan, and Ernie Alexander say they are against funding a raise through any new taxes. Alexander has also mentioned the Lafayette Parish School System's history of hiring more teachers instead of paying current teachers more as a reason for his opposition. Alexander and Trahan are both former Lafayette Parish public high school teachers.
The governor's proposal would raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 36 cents to $1.36. The tax is expected to raise teacher pay by $3,300 over the next two years, along with a $500 raise for support workers and teacher aides and a five percent pay raise for college professors.
Mangham, who is also an English teacher at Lafayette High and serves as the legislative chair for the state teachers' association, says the issue should be one of education over taxes. A 2003 study by the National Education Association ranked teacher pay in Louisiana 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"We scream and holler any time we have a new tax," Mangham says. "We cannot attract and retain young people in this profession. This is not about me. I'm getting ready to retire. We have got to be able to get some young, bright teachers in the classroom."