School systems in St. Martin and three other parishes have failed to comply with a state law that bans the use of seniority in teacher layoff decisions, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.
“They are maintaining the old school system that does not protect our best teachers and does not protect the interests of kids,” White said.
The others are the St. Tammany, Vermilion and St. Bernard school systems.
White said that, by disregarding the new state law, officials in all four districts risk lawsuits from any teachers fired illegally as well as angry parents.
But Richard Lavergne, superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, disputed White’s view of what local school boards need to do to comply with the law.
Lavergne said the law, known as Act 1, clearly says that school districts are banned from using a teacher’s years of service as the “primary” factor in any layoffs.
He said his School Board, with the advice of the panel’s attorney, passed a new policy in June that makes seniority a “secondary” factor in St. Martin Parish school system layoffs.
“They thought their policy was fine,” Lavergne said.
White said the four school systems adopted layoff plans that explicitly allow seniority to be used as a secondary factor when layoffs arise.
“We can make legal arguments all day,” he said. “The law is very clear that those decisions are not to be based on seniority.”
One section of the law says “all reduction in force policies adopted for use in dismissing teachers and administrators shall be based solely upon demand, performance and effectiveness ... ”
The layoff rules were part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school agenda aimed at improving student achievement.
Backers argued that teacher seniority was used for years to keep ineffective teachers at the expense of younger ones who did better jobs in the classrooms.
White said school boards in 66 of Louisiana’s 70 public school districts approved new policies that followed state law.
He said that, while the issue has sparked a flurry of emails and telephone calls with officials in the four school systems, the law does not spell out any steps that the state Department of Education can do to force compliance.
“I hope that when parents and community members learn that their districts are continuing an old school system that doesn’t protect the interests of kids they will be compelled to make a change because it is the right thing to do,” White said.
Even teachers rated similarly effective, according to the department, can be settled by studying numerical ratings “down to the hundredths percent” as well as evaluations by principals.