The Lafayette Parish School Board unanimously agreed Wednesday to join a lawsuit filed by the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board and others that challenges the way the state calculated the formula used to determine per student funding.
The board is already a plaintiff in the initial lawsuit filed in July 2013 that claims the state improperly calculated the formula since 2009 and sought a 2.75 percent increase in the formula for the years 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. The board’s action Wednesday now has the system trying to recoup the funding increase for the 2013-14 school year, said board attorney Danielle Boudreaux. Boudreaux works for Hammonds, Sills, Adkins and Guice, the law firm representing school boards across the state in the lawsuit.
“It is our concern that those who don’t join in wouldn’t reap the benefits,” Boudreaux said.
The Louisiana Association of Educators is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Rodolfo Espinoza, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators.
“This could mean up to $20 million for our school district and I hope that we sign onto it. I encourage you to do so,” Espinoza said.
Also Wednesday, the board approved a new job description for a customer service coordinator to work in the insurance department and changed an existing job description in the instructional technology department. The technology job decision involved downgrading an existing position from a supervisor position to instructional technology coordinator, which lowered the pay for the position. Prior to voting on both jobs, board member Tehmi Chassion warned his fellow board members that they’ll face tough budget decisions in the coming weeks and he was concerned about hiring more employees for new positions before the budget planning process.
Technology director LaShona Dickerson said the past supervisor in her department retired in December and there are only two facilitators who provide professional development for the entire district.
Chassion said the board will face more essential staff pleas in the coming weeks.
“In the very near future, there’s going to be a lot of people lining up to tell us, ‘That position — I can’t do without it.’ I’m not saying that someone’s fibbing or lying to us. These are decisions that board members from all nine districts are going to have to make,” Chassion said.
Board member Justin Centanni credited Dickerson for finding a way to save her department money by changing the job description, which downgraded the salary level by two classes.
“I want to make the point that we should be encouraging the central office staff to save money and come to us with ways to save money,” Centanni said.
The instructional technology coordinator job was approved in a 5-4 vote with board members Centanni, Tommy Angelle, Erick Knezek, Mary Morrison and Jeremy Hidalgo supporting it. Board members Elroy Broussard, Britt Latiolais, Dawn Morris and Chassion were opposed.
At the staff’s request, a decision to ask for legislative intervention to address the double financial impact the school system faces when it shares dedicated tax revenues with charter schools was removed from Wednesday’s agenda. The three charter schools in Lafayette Parish are eligible to receive a share of local tax revenues, however, the school system still must spend the full amount of dedicated tax revenues for voter-approved purposes. For instance, last year a 2002 sales tax dedicated for teacher salaries brought in $27.5 million and charter schools were eligible to receive an estimated $929,000. The school system still must spend $27.5 million for the dedicated purpose.
At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, LeJeune said staff wanted to tweak the wording of the resolution and review any potential legal issues. Previously, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said staff was discussing two potential solutions with its attorneys: bringing the issue to voters to “undedicate” a portion of the tax or for legislation that would give the school system credit for the dedication.
Also, Wednesday, the board recognized its counselors of the year for their work with students in the current school year. Honorees were: Sonia Hartley, J.W. James Elementary School; Candice Guillory, Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy; and Joey Mouton, Carencro High School.
The board also recognized Lafayette High School for twice ranking in the top 10 of public high schools in the state for both increased participation in Advanced Placement tests and an increased number of students placing three or higher on the AP exams, meaning students scored high enough to receive college credit for their AP coursework.
Lafayette High speech and debate coach, Shane Guilbeau, also was honored for his receipt of a national award from the National Forensic League. Two of Lafayette High’s seniors, Thomas Etheridge and Lillian Feist were also recognized at the board meeting for their selection as semifinalists for the U.S. Department of Education’s Presidential Scholars program. Lafayette High Principal Patrick Leonard said it’s rare for a school to have two semifinalists because only two students are selected to represent Louisiana in the program.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.