Lafayette Parish School System leaders appealed to their state representatives and senator for help in supporting legislation during the upcoming session that could provide fixes to accountability issues, critical teacher shortages and school and student health services funding.
Some of the issues were discussed last year at the school system’s annual legislative breakfast, such as making it easier to hire retirees for hard-to-fill positions and some resolution to dedicated taxes following students who enroll in charter schools.
Charter schools are eligible to receive a portion of local tax dollars. In Lafayette Parish, there are three school system sales taxes that are dedicated for specific purposes. For instance, a 2002 half-cent sales tax is used to support teacher salaries.
The three charter schools in Lafayette receive $2,105 per student from local sales tax collections, based on calculations presented Monday by chief financial officer Billy Guidry Monday
Currently, the school district is on the hook for any dedicated tax funds redirected to the charter schools, so it has to find other funds to make up the amount for the dedicated purpose.
Guidry said they are seeking legislation that would allow the district to count the charter schools’ allocation as credit toward its responsibility for the dedicated purpose of the tax.
A study of the issue last year advised that tax referendums should not be so specific because they tie the hands of school districts.
Representatives Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, and Wilfred Pierre, D-Lafayette, and state Sen. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, attended the event with School Board members Elroy Broussard, Justin Centanni, Jeremy Hidalgo and Erick Knezek.
The school system also requested help with a state policy that allows parents to opt their children out of state standardized testing. The policy, they say, will hurt the schools’ accountability scores — the letter grade the schools receive from the state.
“The state plans to assign a zero for any test not taken,” said Tom Spencer, the school system’s director of accountability. “That means that a school’s score will go down under those circumstances.”
Spencer told the legislators that, because of the organized opposition to the state’s implementation of the Common Core state standards and the tests attached to the standards, he expects a “flood of parents” to opt their children out of testing this spring.
Spencer said school districts could receive some relief if the zero isn’t reflected in the accountability measures.
So far, the school system has received opt-out notices from a parent of two students, but Spencer told The Acadiana Advocate he’s received another request for two more students, though the form was unsigned. In the past, few parents took advantage of the opt-out provision, Spencer said. He added that last year, two students weren’t tested at the request of their parents. He told legislators he expects social media also will play a role in spurring parents to opt out of testing.
At some schools, just a handful of students not taking the test could make a significant impact on a school’s score, especially those schools working to shake F ratings, like J.W. Faulk Elementary and Northside High, Spencer said.
“If I remember correctly, 19 students at Northside were the difference in them being failing and them not being failing this year,” he said.
Centanni and Knezek questioned the likelihood the district could convince parents to change their minds about testing.
“This is a civil disobedience movement — people who are politically opposed to (testing),” Knezek said. “I think it’s important to realize that we’re not likely to change the minds of parents who have taken these political stands.”
Assistant superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said some intervention is needed because the opt-out provision given to parents will also impact teachers’ evaluations, which are based on students’ learning outcomes.
Other issues discussed involved making it easier for school districts to hire retirees to fill critical shortage areas and changing sick leave and maternity leave policies. State law requires teachers to submit a doctor’s excuse if they’re sick for six consecutive days, while a shorter time period is required in other professions, said Bruce Leininger, human resources director. He said legislation that allows school districts to set their own requirements for a doctor’s excuse help ensure sick leave is not abused.
The school system also asked for help with its effort to expand student health services. The school system opened a telehealth clinic at Ossun Elementary last year to enable students to be seen via technology by a pediatrician at the school-based health center at Carencro Middle School. School health and wellness director Bradley Cruice told legislators that the telehealth site can’t be reimbursed for its services because the state doesn’t recognize it as an originating site of services. The telehealth site provides the same services as a school-based health center and should be eligible for the same reimbursement options, he said.
Given school system’s concerns about sick leave, Landry asked if staff and faculty had access to the clinics.
Cruice said they do not at this time, but it is an option the school system would like to pursue. However, it would take additional staffing because the school-based health center is staffed by a pediatrician, he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.