Ascension hiring 50 new teachers to meet student influx

Ascension Parish is looking for a few more good teachers.

The School Board is poised to hire 50 new teachers in an effort to ease staffing levels due to continued growth. Funds needed to hire the new teachers are listed in the school district’s 2013-14 budget, which is due for adoption June 18. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Student enrollment is expected to grow again next year by about 3 percent, according to district projections, said Diane Allison, the district’s director of business services. That means an additional 550 students will be in parish classrooms during the 2013-14 school year.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol said the increased staffing is not only an attempt to keep up with the continued influx of students, but also to decrease the parish’s teacher-to-student ratio to about 1:25.

“Part of it is growth, but part of it is restoration of a more generous staffing level that we had prior to the economic downturn,” Pujol said.

Principals at the parish’s 28 public schools are looking to fill their staffs, Pujol said, and the district will host a job fair for highly qualified and certified teachers from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 6 at the Dutchtown High School gymnasium.

“We’re adding 50 teachers, but we’re looking for more than 50 teachers,” she said. “That doesn’t count the number of people who retired, moved away or were not asked to come back. So we’re looking for more.”

The teacher additions are just one piece of the school district’s $200 million general fund budget, which will see a 4 percent increase from the 2012-13 budget. The increase is being pushed by a steady increase in property taxes, though Allison said she expects sales tax receipts to decrease in 2013-14.

“This year is a record high with all the plant expansion,” Allison said. “We’re not sure that’s going to be repeated.”

Pujol said two other parts of the budget that stood out to her were $2.8 million in major campus maintenance projects that had been deferred for several years as well as a $1.8 million expansion of the district’s one-to-one technology program.

Last school year, about 3,000 students had either laptops or Apple iPads to use in classrooms and at home. That number is expected to increase to 8,000 next year, and Pujol hopes all middle and high school students will have the use of personal computing devices within the next four years.

The district also is poised to add nearly $13.5 million to its general fund balance from the current fiscal year, upping that figure to more than $85.5 million.

“We’re starting to realize dollars from the expansion of industry along the river,” Pujol said. “We knew that was coming, but we didn’t know how much that was going to impact us and when it was going to happen.

“We’ve got some real serious construction needs with our continued growth,” Pujol said. “We’ll be coming with our next set of projects for those dollars and then we’ll be looking at whether we need to go out for another bond issue.”