CLINTON — East Feliciana Parish’s new school superintendent said he believes divine intervention may have helped the school district cut 20 school-level positions last month without sending anyone home with a pink slip.
Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. noticed in September that the district’s Oct. 1 enrollment was likely to be down by 100 students, compared with the Feb. 1 enrollment, resulting in an eventual loss of more than $618,000 in state Minimum Foundation Program funds.
He and financial adviser Tommy LeJeune decided the board needed to cut 20 positions in order to offset the loss in state funding, and the School Board agreed.
The layoffs were scheduled to take effect Oct. 31.
“We went through a process to call for a reduction-in-force, but as a result, some things started taking place that allowed us not to have to send anyone home,” Lewis said.
A combination of unexpected retirements, resignations, shifting some employees from general-fund positions to federally funded programs and restructuring within the schools accomplished the board’s goal, he said.
“It was unfolding daily,” Lewis said, holding up a thick binder of papers.
“As you can see, it’s very thick. Everything went into this folder, and I worked on it daily. My administrative team worked with me on this, and we worked closely with the principals throughout the process in face-to-face meetings and conference calls.
“This was a priority for us, but if you ask me how all of this worked out, it was divine. That’s my answer to it all, because this was a tough situation for our district,” Lewis said.
Lewis, who began working in East Feliciana in June, officially became superintendent July 1.
One of his first moves was to offer a staff reorganization plan that cut the number of job slots in the central office from 43 to 27.
“We were operating, in my opinion, as if we had probably double the kids, when you looked at the central office,” Lewis said in August. At that time, he also said the reorganization plan was falling into place through retirements and voluntary resignations.
Lewis said the district’s precarious financial position and the board’s own goals smoothed the way through what could have been a contentious move.
“When I interviewed, the desire to change was something that was expressed to me; that we could no longer operate this way. It was said to me that the district was top-heavy,” Lewis said.
Lewis said his new team is focused on improving the academic programs in the parish’s five schools in hopes of halting the gradual loss of students in future years.
The district received a D letter grade from the state Department of Education this year, with two schools, Clinton and Jackson Elementary schools, each receiving an F.
Slaughter Elementary was the only school with a C grade.
“I truly believe that once we get a handle on the academic program, our community can see the value of public education in East Feliciana and our students will remain,” Lewis said. “And, I’m confident, even though the process will be slow, we’ll see a lot of our students returning back home to us.”
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