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East Baton Rouge Parish Schools superintendent Warren Drake sits in on during a meeting of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Thursday, February 21, 2019, at the school board offices in Baton Rouge, La.

With the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board scheduled to vote Thursday whether to give Superintendent Warren Drake authority to lay off employees, the two teacher unions are suspicious of what they're hearing.

Some employees are already being told they will likely have to look for another job somewhere else in the school system. The jobs of these 100-or-so employees are in jeopardy due to a separate, annual budget process where school principals figure out the number of staff members they will have the following school year.

As part of that process, affected employees received impact letters last week before spring break, telling them their position is slated to be cut because of program changes or school restructuring. Those who remain on the impact list, set to be made final Monday, won't be returning to their schools in the same positions they held.

Representatives of both teacher unions in Baton Rouge said they have heard from their members about the impact letters, some mistaking the letters for the potential layoffs they’ve been hearing about. Several affected employees are expected to speak out at the School Board meeting.

Angela Reams-Brown, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, said she has concerns about who she’s hearing is being let go and where.

“I’m afraid some of the principals are using this as a way to get rid some of the people they don’t want at their schools,” Reams-Brown said.

Gretchen Lampe, UniServ director, had similar concerns, saying some of the employees placed on the list have a decade-plus of experience and high employee performance evaluations.

“Some of the stuff doesn’t make sense,” Lampe said.

The School Board meeting, which had been scheduled for April 18, was postponed because of the severe weather that blew through Louisiana that day. The rescheduled meeting is now set to start at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board office, 1022 S. Foster Drive.

The delay in the vote means that layoffs won’t occur until May 26 at earliest, a week later than planned and a month after the board meeting. Drake is looking for a way to trim $20 million to $30 million in school spending in advance of the 2019-20 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

On April 4, the School Board voted preliminarily, by a 6-2 margin, to give Drake permission to invoke the school system’s Reduction in Force (RIF) policy if necessary to balance the budget.

Invoking a RIF doesn’t automatically mean employee layoffs, but it increases the possibility. In an effort to cut the budget without resorting to layoffs, Drake for nearly a year has been leaving jobs unfilled as positions opened.

On Wednesday, Millie Williams, chief of human resources, estimated some 250 people are likely to retire, resign or be let go because they are newly hired and in unprotected interim positions.

“Right now if things were to continue as they are, I would not anticipate a RIF,” Williams said.

If the board gives final approval Thursday night as expected, a RIF letter is to be sent out Friday notifying school system employees.

In an embarrassing error, school employees received a RIF letter last weekend, only to receive an immediate districtwide email rescinding that letter.

“I hated that so bad,” Williams said.

Williams said HR staff had removed the letters from the mailroom, but an employee with the private contractor that maintains school facilities, unaware that the matter had been delayed a week, brought the letters back and they were sent out anyway.

The erroneous RIF letters arrived in people’s mailboxes even as employees, primarily at high schools, were told they would need to look for new jobs in the school district. A job fair has been scheduled for May 4.

The names are being added to a still-being-finalized impact list. Williams said the school system every spring adjusts school staffing, primarily due to changes in projected student enrollment.

This year is no different, she said, with some schools cutting positions and other schools adding them.

More than 100 names are on the impact list now, but a few names may come off before Monday, Williams said.

The School Board has other prominent matters on its Thursday agenda:

  • Selecting a vice president. The board is voting again as part of a settlement with Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge, who said the board violated the state’s open meeting law when it cut short his public comments during the Jan. 17 board meeting when it voted 5-3 to name Jill Dyason as its vice president.
  • Reassigning 377 students from Broadmoor Middle School as part of the planned closure of the school in May when the current school year ends. As part of the proposal, Brookstown Middle would take in 84 Broadmoor students, Capitol Middle would take in 194, Park Forest would take two, and Southeast Middle would take 78.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.