Lafayette board could make key staffing decisions Tuesday

Members to review personnel budgets

The jobs of dozens of Lafayette Parish School System teachers, counselors and other instructional staff have been in limbo pending the School Board’s budget decisions, but their fates could be decided on Tuesday when the board is set to tackle staffing budgets.

Superintendent Pat Cooper said Friday he’ll ask the board to confirm the personnel sections of the budget and to consider maintaining current staffing levels, ensuring that no one loses his or her job this year.

Board decisions made this week reduced employee headcounts in the job categories of classroom teacher, assistant principal and counselors to better align their numbers with projected enrollment.

Cooper said the impact of the cuts is likely to change because principals are reporting a boost in student registrations, meaning enrollment at some schools that would have been affected by the staffing changes is actually higher.

The board-approved cuts this week reduced the number of additional hires principals could make above staffing formulas, cut four dean of students jobs and in-school suspension staff, and eliminated eight positions at N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy, the district’s site for students removed from school because of behavioral issues.

So far, the board’s decisions have reduced a $23.5 million shortfall down to $7.3 million. School starts on Aug. 12; however, final budget approval isn’t likely to come until Aug. 20 or later.

Cooper said he wants to work with the board to ensure the district avoids layoffs this year.

“It’s not just to save the jobs,” Cooper said. “The system we have in place is working, and we need every one of these people doing their jobs.”

During the board’s budget meeting on Thursday, several board members indicated they’d like to prevent layoffs this year, too.

“To get a pink slip … two weeks in the future, I wouldn’t want to be treated that way,” board President Hunter Beasley said during Thursday’s budget meeting.

Beasley and board member Tehmi Chassion said they’d like to see jobs saved this year to give the district and its employees time to prepare for more drastic cuts next year when the board is facing another projected deficit, this time for $20 million.

Beasley said Friday he doesn’t foresee a need for layoffs this year.

Even though prior board decisions may reduce the number of available positions, he said, those cuts should be offset through attrition because some employees have retired, moved or left to take other jobs outside the school system.

“We’re going to try to keep as many employees as we can,” Beasley said. “We’re trying to avoid layoffs for this year, but we know and want everybody to know that next year we’re going to be facing a deficit again right from the go.”

On Tuesday, the board also will decide on the 37 instructional strategists jobs that are on a list of possible cuts at a savings of $2.8 million. The strategists are certified teachers who work directly with classroom teachers to tailor lessons based on students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Board member Greg Awbrey said at Tuesday’s meeting that he didn’t want to see the instructional strategists cut this year and suggested the district pay for the jobs with money from the district’s rainy day fund.

When his suggestion received applause from educators in the audience, he told them to stop because the decisions before the board aren’t anything to be “happy” about.

“I think, from this point on, everyone who gets another year, gets a reprieve for their position,” Awbrey said during Thursday’s meeting. “You really need to be looking at next year because it’s not going to be this easy.”

Meanwhile, the district has placed a hold on hiring until the board considers the remaining expenses related to instructional staff and teachers. Principals also are on hold preparing for the opening of school in a few short weeks.

“The most important thing to get accomplished is to let our people know that they have a job and so that we can hire. Our principals need to put their master schedules together,” Cooper said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.