LIVINGSTON — The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has asked the Livingston Parish School System to rescind the furloughs of 3,600 teachers and support staff this school year.
The School Board voted last July to freeze district salaries and eliminate three non-instructional work days for all employees, including administrators, in order to save the system nearly $3.7 million in an increasingly lean 2011-12 fiscal year, Superintendent Bill Spear said Thursday night. The furloughs accounted for about $1.9 million of that savings, he said.
The teachers union is now asking that those employees “be made whole.”
In a letter to Spear dated April 27, LFT President Steve Monaghan said the school system’s furloughs are illegal. Monaghan cites a recent case in Jefferson Parish, where the School Board furloughed support staff for one day.
The Jefferson branch of the teachers union sued, seeking an injunction against the furlough, but the court found in favor of the School Board. The state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed, saying state law prohibits a school system from reducing employee pay below the prior year’s level.
“While we understand how decisions made by state leaders have contributed to the growing fiscal challenges now faced by districts such as Livingston, we nonetheless believe that there are very clear Louisiana statutes that prohibit a reduction of annual salaries,” Monaghan wrote in the letter.
But Livingston School Board attorney Tom Jones said the Jefferson case is different than the situation in Livingston Parish.
First, the Jefferson suit involved only support personnel, with a separate — and as yet undecided — case having been filed on behalf of the Jefferson Parish teachers, Jones said. The law on employee pay is similar but not identical for the two groups, he said.
Second, the Jefferson suit is in another circuit, and the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Livingston Parish, has reached different conclusions on the interpretation of those laws, Jones said.
Third, the Jefferson system had a contract with the union, whereas Livingston does not, he said.
The Livingston School Board took every possible alternative step prior to issuing the furloughs, Spear said.
“It was either that or lay off 70 teachers,” he said. “That would’ve affected learning, and that’s just not fair to the children.”
“We wanted to be as transparent as we could with our employees,” Spear said, “and we let them know about every board meeting when a decision was to be made — from when we decided to declare financial exigency to the RIF (reduction in force) to the specific plan for these furloughs.
“We met with various employee groups and gathered their input,” Spear added, “and we even published our grievance policy in the paper and asked them to come forward with any concerns they might have.”
Spear said it speaks volumes about the dedication of Livingston school employees that not one came forward to express concern about the system-wide cuts.
“It’s a deeply appreciated sacrifice that all the employees in the system have made,” he said. “And they did it for the children of Livingston Parish.”