Teaching jobs, other posts on chopping block in Lafayette

About 100 teaching jobs and more than a dozen counselor and assistant principal positions could be eliminated depending on the Lafayette Parish School Board’s decisions on how to close a $23.5 million shortfall in the school district’s $272 million operating budget.

A majority of the board rejected proposals on June 5 to help offset the shortfall by using a portion of its rainy day fund and excess sales tax revenues.

Superintendent Pat Cooper said he plans to ask the board at a meeting Thursday to reconsider using at least $4 million from the rainy day fund and paying for some jobs with $10 million in 2002 sales taxes reserved for teacher pay.

That strategy, along with about $10 million in cuts elsewhere, could balance the budget without serious ramifications on the classroom teacher, Cooper said Tuesday.

“The $23.5 million is a huge sum of money. We’re cutting almost $3 million from the central office, and there’s nowhere else to cut,” Cooper said. “We are going to have to do a reduction in force if the board doesn’t relent.”

The board has not had to implement a reduction in force policy in recent years.

With changes in state law that took effect in July 2012, employee terminations due to financial or enrollment issues now must be based on evaluations — not seniority.

Another change with the July 2012 law is that the superintendent, not the school board, has the final say on which employees are cut. However, the school board controls the first step, which is determining whether to implement a reduction in force. That’s something that can be done only by a two-thirds vote of the board.

Nearly half the shortfall, about $12 million, is due to a drop in revenue from per-pupil state funds that are following students who choose to attend charter schools.

A reduction in force for classroom teachers could be required if the board votes to increase the district’s current student-teacher ratios by two students — one of the options the board is considering.

If the student-teacher ratio increases, Cooper estimates that about 100 positions could be eliminated.

A reduction in force could also be necessary for assistant principals, counselors and social workers.

“I think there are some members who want to kill the turnaround plan, which is sad because it’s not about the children. It’s about politics,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the cuts won’t affect the district’s 10 D-rated schools or J.W. Faulk Elementary, the district’s only F-rated school. However, those 11 schools will lose their instructional strategists, the certified educators who work closely with classroom teachers to develop lesson plans, and their data analysts, the certified educators who review student information to help teachers pinpoint areas for review.

In addition to previously proposed cuts, Cooper said, the board will be asked to consider more revisions to his own budget with reductions in contract services, travel and supplies and the board’s own budget with cuts to their travel allowances and their hospitality services — food and coffee at board meetings and events.

“We’re also proposing cutting out legal fees from Hammonds and Sills, which we’re paying an average of $15,000 a month, and going back to the DA’s Office. That’s about three or four teacher positions right there,” Cooper said.

Other cuts to be proposed by the administration, Cooper said, include eliminating school safety officer positions in order to retain school resource officers, who are trained police officers working in the district’s middle and high schools. The safety officers were added last year at a few schools to provide extra support on campuses.

An administration proposal to cut 37 instructional strategist positions was also offered for the board’s consideration at a savings of more than $2 million. If the positions are cut, the strategists would likely be assigned to classroom teaching positions, said Bruce Leininger, the school district’s human resources director.

If a reduction in force is implemented, Leininger said, no decision has been made yet whether cuts would be made on a campus-by-campus basis or if the district would cull employees based on the entire pool of teachers.

Anyone who is let go may file a grievance, he said. The board’s policy also allows for those employees to be hired if their jobs become available again within a year.

Leininger said there are about 140 vacant teaching jobs in the district now and he’s hiring for about 40 of them to fill hard-to-find positions in science, math and special education, as well as hiring for the district’s D and F schools.

He said he’s holding off hiring for about 100 vacant teacher jobs pending the board’s budget decisions.