EBR students to make up for closures with longer school day

Updated at 8:40 p.m. — A longer school day is in store for East Baton Rouge Parish school students to make up for the four lost due to icy, snowy weather in January.

Students will spend an extra 30 minutes in school starting Monday and lasting for about a month. In addition, school will be held on two days that students had been scheduled to have off — March 5, which is Ash Wednesday, and March 14, which was supposed to be a teacher training day.

The School Board voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the change in the school calendar.

Catholic schools in East Baton Rouge Parish will follow the same schedule as the parish school system.

The goal is to make up lost instructional time before standardized testing begins March 18. The 2013-14 school year still ends May 22.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he sought input from Catholic school leaders and employee associations before making the recommendation. “I can tell you this,” Taylor said. “Nobody is going to be happy.”

The change means school will let out at 2:55 p.m. for middle and high schools, and 3:55 for elementary schools. In all, there will 25 longer school days, the last one on March 18.

Taylor said he ruled out other options that included Saturday classes, a longer school year and starting school days any earlier than they start already.

“There are very few options you have without elongating the school year and still making up as much time as we could before state assessments,” Taylor said.

School Board member Barbara Freiberg urged Taylor to work with schools and teachers to consider alternatives for special situations at individual schools.

Deputy Superintendent Michael Haggen said schools will use the extra 30 minutes as a time to help struggling students get caught up.

The School Board also voted 10-0 Thursday to join St. John the Baptist Parish in litigation that seeks to recover millions of dollars in state funding. The suit claims the state owes the school district because it did not properly pass the 2012-13 school funding formula as well as formulas approved in previous years. Board member Connie Bernard was absent for the vote.

The vote was prompted by a Jan. 27 decision by state District Judge Michael Caldwell of Baton Rouge. Caldwell denied class-action status to the state’s school districts seeking to recoup money lost because of a change for 2012-13 to the state’s funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program.

More than 40 districts expressed interest in joining the suit after the Jan. 27 decision, a lawyer representing St. John said shortly after Caldwell issued his ruling.

The 2012-13 MFP was judged unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court in May, opening the door to school districts seeking state fund they believe are due them.

The Supreme Court also ruled in the same decision that the state could not use the MFP to support private schools via publicly funded vouchers or private companies and groups selling online courses to public schools.

In other business, the board on Thursday put off for a month voting on a recommendation to renew for three more years the school system’s contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana to administer the school system’s employee health insurance plan. The current contract expires on Dec. 31.

The contract renewal would extend Blue Cross’s third-party administration through 2017 at an estimated cost of $2.8 million a year. The insurance plan would include about 7,000 active and retired employees and increase employee fees from $29 to $33, the first increase in six years.

Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said the increase is justified given how long it has been since Blue Cross had sought an increase. She said 19 months ago, the school system solicited proposals. Of the five received, Blue Cross offered the best price.