Proposed East Baton Rouge schools budget would cut dozens of instructional coaches and middle school teachers _lowres

Warren Drake

Staffing of public schools in Baton Rouge is likely to change next year, with fewer positions for second-tier school administrators and fewer classroom teachers in some schools but more spots for guidance counselors and librarians, as well as music and physical education teachers.

The proposed new staffing formula would eliminate 85 positions overall, saving an estimated $6.3 million a year. The decrease in payroll is driven by declines in enrollment, about 600 students fewer this year compared with a year ago, as well as different policy preferences.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake, eight months on the job, shared the proposed staff changes at an all-day School Board retreat Saturday. He plans to talk about them again Wednesday morning at his monthly meeting with principals.

Drake said the proposal is part of an effort to bring spending in line with revenue in the least damaging way.

“We’re working to make sure we are putting the money as close to the students as we can,” he said.

He said he hopes to avoid layoffs and rely instead on attrition. That means that as positions become vacant, they won’t be filled, while staff in newly eliminated positions would be moved into other vacancies.

Drake said he expects the proposed staffing reductions will change based on what the principals tell him. For instance, Mayfair Lab School may need more teachers because its model calls for two teachers per classroom, he said.

The new staffing formula would lower the overall teacher-pupil ratio at the elementary level and, slightly, at the high school level, while significantly raising the ratio for middle schools and bringing those schools in line with the high school ratios. Middle schools would lose the most positions, 67, all but 10 of them classroom teachers.

Drake is still allowing principals to do site-based budgeting, but it’s much more constrained than in the past. Drake’s predecessor, Bernard Taylor, gave principals more control over their staffing budgets, starting in 2014. Since then, schools shed a variety of non-core classroom positions, including guidance counselors and librarians. Drake is restoring many of those positions but is also axing positions principals added in recent years, including instructional coaches.

Rather than basing staffing levels on how schools were staffed the year before, the current practice, Drake is adjusting for changes in enrollment. So schools with declines in enrollment, and consequently more adults relative to the number of children, are receiving less money to pay for faculty and staff.

Staffing budgets for each school have yet to be released.

School Board President Barbara Freiberg said she hasn’t had a chance to dig deeply into the proposal but agrees with its overall thrust.

“Something has to be done where we are with our budget, where the state is with its budget,” Freiberg said. “I think we just have to be prepared for the worst.”

The school system is bracing for a seventh consecutive year of budget cuts, but it is unclear how severe they might be.

Its general operating budget calls for spending $461 million in 2015-16, about $30 million more than the revenue it estimates taking in. School officials say they have since trimmed this expected deficit this year from $30 million to about $20 million.

A healthy surplus carried over from the year before is keeping the school system out of the red. That surplus, however, is likely to run out in 2016-17 unless revenue increases or spending decreases or both.