BATON ROUGE, LA.
After years of receiving the lowest wages in the South, college faculty in Louisiana have finally hit the jackpot. With a push from Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, the Louisiana Legislature agreed to dedicate $109 million in state gambling taxes for education pay raises.
Faculty at Louisiana's public colleges will get an estimated $32.5 million in pay raises, with the rest going to teachers at the state's public elementary and secondary schools.
Foster, who at age 70 is a part-time student at Southern University Law Center, told lawmakers at a special session on education in March that college faculty salaries are so low in Louisiana that he is personally embarrassed to attend national and regional governors' conferences.
"I want our college faculty paid," Foster said, noting that many of the top faculty are leaving for better paying jobs in other states.
The legislators responded by endorsing Foster's plan to increase the state tax on the state's 14 riverboat casinos from 18.5 percent to 21.5 percent.
In addition, the lawmakers endorsed a Foster-backed proposal to slash taxes on the financially troubled Harrah's New Orleans Casino and to dedicate the remaining money to education as well.
Harrah's officials had threatened to shut down the casino on the edge of the French Quarter on April 1 unless they received tax relief from the $100 million-a-year minimum state tax that was putting them in file red. The new $50 million-a-year state tax on Harrah's and the $59 million in new riverboat casino taxes will provide the elementary and secondary school teachers a $1,000-a-year pay raise this fall. The average Louisiana teacher currently earns $32,510, or about $3,400 less than the Southern regional average.
In addition, the state's colleges will receive enough money for an overall 5 percent faculty pay raise. The average faculty salary at Louisiana's public four-year colleges is $46,874, or 15 percent below the Southern average.
But that doesn't mean each faculty member will receive a 5 percent pay raise.
The Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education wants the $32.5 million earmarked for college faculty raises used for merit pay, based on job performance evaluations.
The regents' position files in the face of Southern University Chancellor Dr. Edward Jackson's plan to use any money earmarked for salary increases for across-the-board faculty raises until his historically Black university hits the Southern regional average.
Jackson's position is based in part on faculty complaints that arose when he distributed the last campuswide pay raise based on job evaluations. …