DONALDSONVILLE — A leading Louisiana public school lawyer told the Ascension Parish School Board its policies on hiring, personnel contracts, salaries and terminations have numerous points of conflict and are out of date with major changes in state law over past five years.
Sitting nearly an hour Tuesday night with the Board's Personnel Committee, Baton Rouge lawyer Bob Hammonds pointed out shortfalls, conflicts and out-of-date provisions in the key personnel policies of the school district, which has nearly 2,900 employees.
"You have a number of them (policies) that need to be updated. You have some, I think, that have revisions in there that are inconsistent with current law. You have some that are unnecessary, in my opinion, because of recent changes in law and some of these are issues that, you know, it's up to the board to decide how it wants to address a situation," Hammonds said.
The school system routinely ranks as the parish's largest employer, with nearly three times the number of employees than at Ascension's second largest employer, German chemical giant BASF, according to parish government audits.
School Board member Robyn Penn Delaney, chairwoman of the Personnel Committee, said later she heard a talk by Hammonds recently at a school legal seminar with another board member and asked him to review the system's policies.
Delaney and four other members of the committee aired their interest in revising the policies in light of Hammonds' analysis.
Based on Hammonds' read of the policies, some appear to not have caught up to major legislative changes several years ago that shifted more day-to-day power, in particular over hiring and some firing, to superintendents.
While Hammonds shared his critiques of those changes, which he asserted left many unforeseen and unresolved conflicts in state law itself, he pointed as one example to the school system's policy on termination of an employee in the middle of his or her contract.
The school policy says the employee must receive written charges and have a disciplinary hearing before a hearing officer. Hammonds said state law requires 10-days notice from the superintendent and an interim decision from the superintendent. Only if the employee challenges the decision within 10 days will there be a hearing, under state law, Hammonds said.
"This paragraph, as written, is ... is just, just wrong," he said.
He noted the current law has been in effect since 2014.
"So, if this is your current policy, then this means your current policy has been wrong for three years," Hammonds said. "These weren't changes that were made last year."