Casino Tax Money to Help Boost Pay for Louisiana’s College Faculty By Scott Dyer
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 the 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 flies 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. “The fair thing to do at this point is to give the raises across the board. After we get everybody to the (regional) average, then we can talk about merit,” Jackson says.Jackson has already planned to give an across-the-board pay raise to faculty and staff from a $125 per-semester tuition increase that is slated to take effect in the fall.The tuition increase will raise an estimated $2 million, or about a third of the $6 million needed to raise faculty and staff pay on the campus to the regional average.But Jackson says he will comply with the regents’ mandate to use the gambling tax revenue for merit pay. In dedicating that money to education, the Legislature made it clear that the regents were to oversee the college faculty raises.“Actually, it’s a nice problem to have — usually we don’t have any money, and we don’t have to worry about working out a pay-raise plan,” Jackson says.Southern University System Vice President Dr. Ralph Slaughter says he is working out a hybrid plan that will include a modest across-the-board raise using the tuition money and a merit raise using the gambling revenues. Southern University officials also want to use a portion of the gambling money to correct disparities in faculty pay that exist on the campus, says Slaughter.In certain “hot” fields like business and information technology, it’s not unusual to find a recently hired faculty member receiving a higher salary than a veteran of the same rank. That’s because market forces sometimes make it necessary to pay the new hires more in order to attract them, Slaughter says. On behalf of the regents, Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Joseph Savoie says he doesn’t see a problem with Southern University using a portion of its gambling money to address the disparity problem.“Many of the people who have been here for years are getting close to retirement, and they’re kind of stuck,” explains Savoie. “It’s unfair to them because they’re expected to do the same work (for a lower salary).”The regents also plan to give the state’s college systems the flexibility to allocate the money to target certain “high-need” academic areas where pay raises are needed to remain competitive with other states, Savoie says. For instance, professors in fields like computer science could receive more generous pay hikes than those in liberal arts. Savoie says he is hoping that the new round of pay raises will help improve Louisiana’s K-12 and postsecondary education system.
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