LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board agreed Monday to boost its budget by about $5.3 million to save about 70 positions not included in the spending plan adopted in September, but the move may not prevent layoffs.
During the more than five-hour meeting, the board voted 7-2 to revise its budget and voted 8-1 to implement its reduction-in-force policy, which cut about 35 positions.
The job cuts include 14 teachers and 11 assistant principals. However, the effect on employees isn’t known yet because the district has as many as 14 teacher openings and other vacancies. If layoffs do take effect, employees’ last day would be Jan. 6.
Updated information on the employees affected will be presented to the board at its Dec. 17 meeting, said Bruce Leininger, human resources director. Employees affected by the reduction in force also would have 10 days to file an appeal for their job, he said.
Board members Greg Awbrey, Mark Babineaux, Melinda Mangham, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle, Shelton Cobb, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted in favor of the reduction-in-force policy. Board member Kermit Bouillion voted “no.”
Chassion and Bouillion also voted against the budget revision. To pay for the revision, the board dipped about $1.6 million deeper into its rainy day fund and used about $4 million from its capital projects contingency fund for 2015-16.
The board already used about $7.1 million from its rainy day fund to balance the 2014-15 budget adopted on Sept. 15. However, then-Superintendent Pat Cooper refused to implement it, so the school system operated on a partial budget until the board voted for staff to implement the 2014-15 spending plan.
The board’s action Monday retains 70 positions, including 18.5 teaching slots and 41 para-educators who staff in-school suspension on campuses.
During Monday’s special meeting, interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune also proposed a $6.3 million revision that would restore more positions not included in the original budget, as well as a third revision of $4 million that covered expenses through July and the 41 para-educators.
Students need continuity, especially as they prepare for standardized testing in the spring, and staffing changes now could negatively affect their progress, LeJeune said.
“When they return on Jan. 6, they may have a different teacher in Algebra I. We know that data shows it is not beneficial for students to have a different teacher, especially at this time of year,” LeJeune said.
LeJeune identified an additional $7.3 million from capital projects accounts and excess sales tax collections.
“Cutting teachers, assistant principals at this stage in the school year would be highly disruptive … and should clearly be avoided,” said Rodolfo Espinoza, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators. He blamed the budget difficulties on the charter schools approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the support the schools received from Cooper and BESE member Holly Boffy, who represents Lafayette and is a former Lafayette Parish School System teacher.
J.W. Faulk Elementary Assistant Principal Courtney Zammit said her staff has worked tirelessly to prepare for their students.
“We’re one of the F-status schools. We work around the clock to provide what our children need. … What I’m begging you to consider is that you don’t touch our schools this year,” Zammit said.
The board wouldn’t be faced with the difficult decisions about cutting jobs if staff had followed the board’s directives this summer, Trahan said.
Bouillion criticized his fellow board members for not finding budget solutions during the summer and stretching out the budget process through Sept. 15 — the deadline for it to adopt a budget to meet state timelines.
“I’m not afraid to borrow more money from that account to make sure we don’t have to fire 102 people and then see that our test scores drop again,” Bouillion said.
His recommendation that the board add about $6.3 million to lessen impact on staffing failed, with only Bouillion, Cobb and Beasley voting in support.
Some board members suggested cutting $2.5 million from the adopted budget to help cover the expenses incurred since July that the board had not approved. After hearing appeals from math educators that the allocation include instructional resources teachers need in January, Angelle supported the $2.5 million allocation and included it in the recommendation approved by the board Monday.
Just after 9:30 p.m., the board considered Chassion’s suggestion that the board cut team teaching at five middle schools to save $1.3 million. Scott Middle School Principal Candy Kelly said such a move would mean she would lose four teachers, affecting her students’ schedules midyear. They’d also lose the benefit of a block of more than 90 minutes of math, an area where her students need the additional help, she said.
Chassion’s suggestion failed, and he received support for his motion only from Awbrey and Trahan. After the vote, Chassion told principals who spoke in support of the team teaching concept that he considered withdrawing his motion due to the disruption it would create for students.
“Teaming is probably going to be cut next year,” Chassion told the principals.
“We get that,” Kelly told him.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.