Lafayette school doors open despite budget issues

For the second year in a row, the Lafayette Parish School System has started a new school year without an adopted budget, although that had little impact on the thousands of students who started classes Tuesday.

“We have what we need to get started,” said Kathy Aloisio, principal of L.J. Alleman Middle School, before hopping on a school bus to greet arriving students.

Although the absence of a finalized spending plan for 2014-15 had no immediate impact, Superintendent Pat Cooper noted the school system’s campuses don’t have everything they need for the rest of the school year.

Cooper’s observations came as he and Aloisio made the rounds Tuesday of L.J. Alleman Middle School. Cooper credited principals and their staffs for ensuring students don’t feel, or see, any difference in their back-to-school experience.

The School Board has yet to approve the administration’s request that it approve about $3 million in instructional materials and textbooks for the current school year.

During the board’s budget review process, it removed several positions in excess of current staffing formulas, such as counselor, assistant principal and teacher positions. The number of appeals available to principals to hire teachers outside the staffing formula also were reduced.

The employee positions and textbook purchases are just two of the budget battles that have set Cooper and his staff at odds with some School Board members. The board meets Thursday to consider staff’s request for instructional materials and textbooks.

“Within the next month, we should have everything they need,” Cooper said. “In the first few days they’re working on procedures and getting students familiar with that. What hurt us was not being able to have these materials we needed for teacher inservice before school started.”

Cooper and Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau made the rounds at a few schools Tuesday morning, visiting L.J. Alleman Middle, J.W. Faulk Elementary and Lafayette and Carencro high schools.

L.J. Alleman Middle expected about 1,100 students Tuesday, and more were registering on the first day. The school is a neighborhood school, but also enrolls students across the parish into its performing arts academy.

The school outgrew its campus long ago and work to build a larger cafeteria that doubles as an auditorium is slated to get underway this school year. To make way for the construction, some of the campus’ portable classroom buildings were moved. Students received maps on the first day as a guide to relocated classrooms.

At Faulk, students quietly filed into the library for a tour of the stacks before heading out to recess. Faulk Principal Jamilah Hicks said she expected about 480 students on Tuesday, though she thought it looked like fewer than that were in attendance.

Hicks said the school is focused on boosting student literacy and parental involvement as ways to help students in the new school year.

“Our main goal is to raise our scores,” Hicks said. “We have a lot of gains to make.”

The board’s proposed budget doesn’t yet include all the additional resources proposed for Faulk, such as a second assistant principal and a parent liaison.

The school is the district’s only F-rated school based on state accountability measures. The board did include in its budget a cap of 17 students in classes, which is two more than the 15 student cap requested by staff. Cooper said the school was staffed Tuesday with the lower capacity of 15 students, which required the addition of six teachers.

Since mid-May, the board cut about $20 million as a way to offset a more than $23 million shortfall in the general fund after rejecting several balanced budget proposals offered by Cooper. The board-driven cuts eliminated assistant principal, counselor and teacher positions in excess of staffing formulas and dean of students positions on four campuses.

If the board’s proposed budget proceeds, progress at Carencro High could be jeopardized, the school’s principal, Ken Roebuck, said Tuesday.

The high school received additional support of an extra Carencro Police officer — there are now two on its campus — as part of a safety package for Carencro High and a few other school sites the board approved last year to curb discipline problems. Funding for the extra officers isn’t included in the board’s proposed budget.

Roebuck could also lose a second assistant principal and a dean of students — two positions added as a further way to control discipline issues at the school. And, it worked, cutting discipline referrals by more than half, Roebuck said.

“Without that support — we lose those gains,” Roebuck said.

He pointed out other potential impacts of the board’s proposed cuts to his campus — from an English language arts teacher who could be denied English language arts materials designed to prepare students for college to lighting fixtures that will remain unchanged without appropriate funding.

Roebuck was fully staffed on Tuesday — with an extra Carencro Police officer, two assistant principals and his dean of students and Roebuck said he was hopeful that his staff wasn’t going anywhere.

“Dr. Cooper and Mrs. (Sandra) Billeaudeau have committed to us that the schools will have the resources we need,” Roebuck said. “I think they’ll be able to work out a compromise with the School Board.”

The board’s budget issues could be headed for court.

Community leader Greg Davis filed for a preliminary injunction Monday asking the federal court to intervene in the board’s budget business to stave off the budget cuts.

The preliminary injunction is related to the federal lawsuit Davis filed last week asking the court to intervene in the budget scenario and also to disqualify board members Mark Babineaux and Tehmi Chassion from voting in any potential future termination proceedings against Cooper. The status of the board’s investigation of Cooper is unknown.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.