St. James board votes to pay pension expenses

The St. James Parish School Board will pay nearly $1 million under protest after losing a lawsuit it filed to avoid paying pension expenses that school officials say are state responsibilities and not that of local education systems, Schools Superintendent Alonzo Luce said.

“We think it’s very clear in the state constitution that unfunded accrued liability is a state responsibility and not an employer or school district responsibility,” Luce said during a School Board meeting Tuesday.

After a 15-minute executive session, the School Board unanimously approved paying the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System $985,518 in one lump sum to avoid a 7.5 percent interest rate levied against the district each year the amount is not paid in full.

The state House of Representatives Retirement Committee approved legislation last week that will extend the amount of time school systems can pay pension monies from 10 to 15 years, but the School Board didn’t “want to be held hostage to that,” Luce said, speaking of the interest rate.

State law requires school districts to pay unfunded accrued liability for an employee in that pension plan who retires or resigns, Luce said.

In St. James Parish’s case, Luce said the district is being charged $80,000 for each of 12 privatized bus drivers who replaced departing school employees.

School Board members George Nassar Jr., Ken Foret, Carolyn Lambert, Charles Nailor, Patricia Schexnayder, Diana Cantillo and Richard Reulet Jr. approved the motion but later expressed their displeasure for being forced to pay.

Calling the situation “absolutely ridiculous,” Nassar encouraged those in attendance to contact their legislators and ask them to amend the bill so school districts would not have to pay.

Nailor called for the people of St. James Parish to take action.

“We need to get together, gel together as one, and start going to the capital and let them know we mean business in St. James Parish,” Nailor said.

Luce said school officials could get out of paying the amount if the school district wins an appeal or if legislation by state Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, that excuses city, parish or other local public school boards from paying such funds, passes.