LAFAYETTE — The administrator helping in the effort to turn around underperforming, high-poverty schools in Lafayette Parish will have some help in assisting the more than 1,600 students, 100-plus teachers and principals at three of the lowest-performing schools in the district.
The Lafayette Parish School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to fund a new position — an academic auditor — to work alongside School Improvement Administrator Irma Trosclair, who was hired in December to help raise academic achievement at J.W. Faulk Elementary, Alice Boucher Elementary and Carencro Heights Elementary.
The position will cost about $102,000 a year with salary and benefits.
The decision did not come without some hesitation from board members who questioned creating a new position when the board is facing a $15 million to $22 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
“My concern is that we’re not fixing leaky roofs because of budget issues, and that’s one and a half teachers that we could be paying for,” board member Jeremy Hidalgo said.
Schools Superintendent Donald Aguillard countered that, in response to the budget problems, he is holding off filling eight positions that are either already vacant or will become vacant soon. It’s a savings of about $500,000, he said.
“What is this all about if we’re allowing no school to change their academic performance?” Aguillard said. “We’re trying to keep more kids in our classrooms.”
Trosclair said she visits the three schools daily, and although she sees great potential in all of them, the teachers need heightened instruction models for children of poverty.
“There’s no reason those schools cannot grow as long as you’re giving the teachers, the staff and the students what you need,” Trosclair said. “Children at those three schools have been failed in many, many ways. Their needs are great.”
In other business, the board delayed action on a proposal to alter student-teacher ratios across the school district.
School system administrators are asking the board to approve the same student-teacher ratios for the 2016-17 school year as it did for the current school year, but to change the policy on when a school can add another teacher to a grade level as more students enroll.
Aguillard said the proposed new policy would “make it a little harder” to add teachers throughout the school year.
The proposal also would reduce the student-teacher ratios for schools rated D or F.
It’s a move Aguillard said is needed to save money and help stabilize the impending budget shortfall.
Board members raised concerns about increasing class sizes and said they will revisit the issue after they get a report detailing current student-teacher ratios for each school in the district.
“We haven’t started the budget process, but we’re already saying that our first cut would be adding students to classroom,” board member Erick Knezek said. “With the budget deficit we have to address, where else can we cut besides the classroom?”
Aguillard said if the board decides to change the recommendation and lower the number of students needed to add teachers, it would cost the board between $1.4 million and $5 million to fund more teachers.