West Feliciana teachers accept retirement bonuses

The West Feliciana Parish School Board on Tuesday lowered to 12 the number of retiring teachers who will get a $5,000 bonus for leaving the system and helping ease a budget crisis.

Facing a possible $1.5 million deficit next fiscal year, the board last month authorized the payments to 15 to 18 certified teachers, but Personnel Director Beverly Grant said the necessary cost reduction was achieved with 12 voluntary retirements.

The school system also recently sent layoff notices to another 20 employees, which prompted board member Jimmy White to ask why board members weren’t told the names of those affected. Board President Kevin Beauchamp cut off the discussion by saying the matter wasn’t on the agenda.

Finance Director Ruthie Davis said the retirement incentive produced gross annual savings of $890,029 in salaries and benefits, although the figure will be lowered by the bonus payments and necessary replacements for some of the retirees.

The board expects to save about $879,000 with the layoffs, she said.

Superintendent Hollis G. Milton told the board he also is looking at a reorganization plan for the central office to save more money.

Although West Feliciana Parish voters have approved three tax increases since 2010 for schools, Milton said a combination of factors has pushed the district’s budget into the red.

The “big three,” he said, are escalating retirement and health insurance costs and unfunded state mandates. At the same time, the state has frozen the Minimum Foundation Program for the fifth consecutive year, Milton said.

Health insurance premiums increased by 3 percent for this year, but the cost could go up by 25 percent in the coming school year because of recent claims experience, Milton said.

The district also is facing mandated expenses for computers and expanded Internet access to meet state requirements calling for students to begin taking accountability tests on computers, he said.

Davis said West Feliciana’s MFP allotment is hurt by decreasing enrollments as parents leave the parish to find work, as well as state deductions for costs once borne by the state.

For instance, Davis said, the state now deducts money from West Feliciana’s MFP appropriation to pay for parish students going to school in juvenile correctional facilities or to schools for children with special needs.

“The state is passing the responsibility for these children back to the parishes,” Davis said.