The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 6-3 Wednesday to increase class size by one student per class at 29 of its 41 schools as a way to save nearly $4 million to help offset a budget shortfall of more than $16 million in the upcoming school year.
The decision affects only those schools that have a letter grade of A, B or C based on state accountability standards.
The vote came as a substitute motion to an original recommendation by board Vice President Dawn Morris to defer a decision on class sizes to allow time to review the budget and identify more savings, such as additional cuts to the central office.
Morris, board President Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion voted against the class size increase. Board members Elroy Broussard, Justin Centanni, Britt Latiolais, Erick Knezek, Mary Morrison and Jeremy Hidalgo voted in support.
Hidalgo urged the vote on the issue Wednesday night so staffing decisions aren’t delayed by the board’s general fund review, which won’t begin until next month.
Interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune has repeatedly stressed the need for a decision on the pupil-teacher ratios so human resources staff and principals can staff the schools as soon as possible. Timing is an issue because school districts have started hiring for the 2015-16 school year, creating a competitive situation to find the right candidates.
“I can’t support it,” Chassion said of the class size increase. “I still think there are other avenues that we can exhaust.”
Latiolais asked whether it’s better to notify employees that they may need to find a new job now or come July 1, the start of the new fiscal year with a new budget.
Assistant Human Resources Director Suzanne Thibodeaux said she doesn’t expect that any teachers would lose their jobs with the increase in class size.
“We should be able to handle this through attrition,” Thibodeaux said.
At least 30 teachers have put in retirement notices, and she expects more.
“Last summer, we hired over 300 teachers, and I expect that we’re still going to need teachers,” Thibodeaux said.
Morrison said that if money is found in the budget, the board can lower the pupil-teacher ratio.
“Right now, we need to make some cuts, and our A, B and C schools can withstand this,” Morrison said. “It can be changed. … We have to start somewhere.”
Before the vote, LeJeune told the board that staff is committed to continuing to identify additional cuts.
“Even if we dig deeper and find more positions, it’s difficult to get to $1 million, much less $3.9 million,” LeJeune said.
Two parents spoke out against the increased class size.
Milton parent Cathy Castille said adding more students to classrooms would be detrimental to students like her daughter who need additional support. Her young daughter told the board: “It would be bad because sometimes the students in my class, sometimes my teacher says, ‘Are you struggling?’ And, sometimes people in my class don’t tell the teacher.”
L.J. Alleman Middle School Principal Kathy Aloisio said she surveyed the district’s principals and five of them said they didn’t support the change in the student-teacher ratio, while 36 told her they could support the increase at the A, B and C schools. She told the board that while no principal ever wants to increase classroom size, “we all understand that we need to do our part.”
Aloisio told the board it’s critical that a decision on the issue be made as soon as possible because it takes a while for human resources staff and principals to review their rosters and make decisions.
“This will not happen overnight,” she said. “The more we prolong it, the harder it will be.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.