The Lafayette Parish School Board’s finance committee rejected a proposal to increase class sizes by one student next school year to help offset a budget shortfall that could be as steep as $22 million.
The three-member panel rejected the student-teacher ratio increase recommendation from the staff, which estimated the savings at $4.9 million.
The committee instead voted 2-1 to accept committee member Tehmi Chassion’s proposal that there be no increase in class size “until all budget options have been exhausted.” Joining Chassion in support of his motion was Elroy Broussard. Committee chairman Justin Centanni voted no.
During the four-hour meeting, the committee also considered other ways to offset a shortfall that’s projected at $18.1 million but could increase to $22 million if the board decides not to include projected increases in sales and property tax revenues in the budget.
Budget talks will begin in April, though consideration of instructional expenses likely won’t happen until May. A decision on class sizes is needed sooner for staffing decisions to be incorporated in proposed budgets for the full board’s consideration.
Adding an additional student to the class size would affect teaming — a teaching method used in middle schools in the district — and about 70 teaching positions would no longer be needed, but could be handled through retirements and resignations, interim superintendent Burnell LeJeune said.
The recommended pupil-teacher ratio increase would have placed 24 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes, 26 students in fourth-grade classes, and 28 students in classes for grades five through 12.
Three years ago, the student-teacher ratio was 20 students to one teacher before it was increased to 23 students, said Denise Soileau, principal at Katharine Drexel Elementary.
“I’m against raising student-teacher ratio. You can do away with a lot. Do away with me,” she said.
LeJeune said he pitched the student-teacher ratio increase of one additional student to principals at a recent meeting.
“While they didn’t jump up and applaud, I think they understood under the current conditions that they felt that they could live within the bounds of the plus-one,” LeJeune said.
L.J. Alleman Middle School principal Kathy Aloisio told the committee that principals understand the severity of the budget situation.
“Every principal understood that the plus-one was going to come as part of the cuts and we all sat there and said we all have to do our part. It’s not something that we’re looking forward to,” she said.
Later, she said principals agreed that they didn’t think F-rated schools should be “off the table” related to the cuts.
Chief financial officer Billy Guidry told the committee that not increasing the student-teacher ratio would mean staff would have to identify another nearly $5 million in offsets.
Board members Dawn Morris and Mary Morrison both attended the committee meeting and expressed concern about the impact of increasing class size at schools with D and F letter grades. Morris requested that staff present the board financial information related to class size increase at only A-, B- and C-rated schools.
The committee also considered a list of suggested cuts that could cover at least $16.6 million of the shortfall. Some positions proposed for elimination include: three of four dean of student positions at a savings of $288,000; 7.5 assistant principal positions at a savings of $749,453; a consolidation of 15 instructional strategist positions at a savings of nearly $1.1 million; and a reduction in school nursing staff by 10 licensed practical nurses and one registered nurse at a savings of $385,000.
Other proposed offsets include consolidating staff positions within the in-school suspension program at a savings of $480,000 and eliminating the annual salary step increase at a savings of $2 million.
Aloisio said principals felt it was important to protect positions that affect instruction in the classroom, such as the instructional strategists and in-school suspension staff. She added that principals agreed they could adjust to the proposed reduction in assistant principals.
Staff also recommended that $3 million expected to be available in the board’s rainy day fund be used to help offset the deficit.
The list doesn’t represent final recommendations, but a “well-thought-out first plan” to identify potential offsets, LeJeune said.
“I know a common theme is, cut the central office cost centers first. We are evaluating those very carefully and seriously,” he said.
Over the past three years, central office operations have been reduced by more than $4 million, he said.
Committee member Chassion questioned how the suggested elimination of positions would impact employees.
“Our intent is to find a place for everyone,” said Suzanne Thibodeaux, assistant director of human resources. “Of course, we’ll be prepared if we can’t find a place for everyone.”
So far, about 90 teachers have resigned or retired, and that number is expected to grow before the end of the school year, opening up vacancies for those employees whose positions may be eliminated, said Bruce Leininger, human resources director.
At one point during the meeting, Chassion asked whether staff has consider consolidating school sites to save money.
LeJeune said a potential school site has been considered, but he didn’t want to disclose which site because he has not met with the principal.
“I think it could save a considerable amount of money if we were going to do it,” he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.