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Teachers get vaccine; Turner speaks to school board

Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Leader photo by CALEB DANIEL

State Rep. Chris Turner (standing) gives an update on legislative activity to the Lincoln Parish School Board at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Every public school teacher and support employee who wanted the COVID-19 vaccine will have received at least one dose by week’s end, less than two weeks after school workers became eligible for the immunization in Louisiana.

That’s the update Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion gave members of the Lincoln Parish School Board during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“After this week, everyone who signed up will have had at least round one of the vaccine,” Bastion said.

That’s about 54% of the district’s total employee population.

The school district is the lead agency for 17 local daycare and Pre-K centers, and Bastion said as of Tuesday there were only four employees at those centers who wanted the vaccine and didn’t yet have an appointment lined up to receive it.

“But as people are canceling, we are able to fill those in, so I anticipate those four will be able to get in by the end of the week,” she said.

The school board also heard a legislative update from District 12 State Rep. Chris Turner.

Turner (R-Ruston) spoke about an education bill he plans to carry in the upcoming legislative session, budget hurdles to statewide teacher pay raises, and the future of fossil fuels in Louisiana.

His bill would, after a council researches how best to do so, create a “Louisiana Day” in which students would “learn about where their food comes from.”

“Whether it’s in eighth grade when you actually learn about Louisiana history or in fifth or sixth grade… so we know where our chicken comes from, where our rice comes from, our sugar, sweet potatoes,” Turner said.

While discussing the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the formula that determines state funding of local school districts, Turner said the Legislature wants to incorporate another raise for teachers into the budget but isn’t sure how it would be financed.

“The teachers’ pay raise is a hot topic, and that’s something we all want to do,” he said. “We’re just worried about spending this one-time money and being able to afford it next year.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards recently revealed that his upcoming budget proposal will include a $400 raise for teachers and $200 for support staff. Holes in state revenue, partially thanks to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, are being shored up this year by increased federal funding for Medicaid.

“We need to keep and attract the best teachers we can so we can have the best outcomes,” Turner said. “One of the spotlights is going to be how we’re actually going to fund teachers’ raises.”

Turner sits on the House Appropriations Committee.

When asked how a growing emphasis on renewable energy sources might affect the budget in a big oil industry state like Louisiana, Turner said he believes in a bit-by-bit transition to renewable energy by attracting companies in that field to Louisiana.

“Don’t try to cut (fossil fuels) now, but just gradually go into (renewable energy) and make it affordable for everybody,” he said.

“The best way we can do that, to attract those companies here and keep those jobs, is to have a clean tax structure for individuals, for businesses, and have it to where it won’t change every three or four years. We have some really good packages on that coming up.”

In other business, the school board unanimously approved the proposed 2021-22 academic calendar without comment. If the year goes as planned, classes will start on Aug. 19 and end on May 27, 2022.