Board thaws freeze

Webster Parish school system employees will see a nearly decade-long salary freeze lifted after school board members voted Monday to restore pay increase steps to eligible employees. Increases will be reflected in October paychecks.

Board members voted 10-1 to go ahead with the plan despite a negative review from Business Director Crevonne Odom. Odom questioned the strain an anticipated $1.5 million in additional cost the system-wide increases would put on an already tight budget.

“On the record, I cannot recommend (step increases) based on sound financial advice,” Odom told board members prior to the vote. Odom had outlined her views on the cost of the increase during a finance committee meeting prior to the board’s session.

Superintendent of Schools Johnny Rowland said Odom shouldn’t be criticized for her negative opinion based on budget considerations, saying she was “…only speaking professionally. She has personal feelings just like anyone else,” he added. “It’s the job she’s in.”

Board member Jerry Lott said while it’s never a good idea to not heed the advice of the finance director, it is important to take care of those employees who remained loyal during the freeze and stayed in Webster Parish.

“It puts us in a precarious position…but if we adopt an ultra-conservative attitude in the central office about how we spend and the issues that require the funds, we can make it work even though it will be tight,” he said.

 School Board members had been studying the feasibility of step increases for months, delaying votes pending a salary analysis conducted by Allen, Green & Williamson, LLP and further study by Odom and her staff.  

Salaries will roll forward for more than 260 eligible system employees, 182 of whom are teachers.

During Monday’s meeting, board members also approved a number of school projects funded from various maintenance and sales tax funds including:

• $9,400 to paint hallways and doors at Brown Upper Elementary School.

• $8,200 for repairs from storm damage at Lakeside Jr/Sr High School.

• $4,800 to remove underbrush around the campus at Shongaloo School.

• $4,002 to purchase 100 student chairs for Brown Upper Elementary School.

• $3,200 to repair water damaged sheetrock in hallway and ceilings at North Webster High School.