Jefferson Parish schools launch program to align spending with academic success

The Jefferson Parish school system will implement what it calls a Smarter School Spending initiative in an effort to better align spending with the academic success of students in the classroom, the result of a partnership approved at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

The system is one of just a handful of districts nationwide, and the only district in Louisiana, to be invited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in the program and will serve as a demonstration site for other districts, Superintendent James Meza said.

The project will look at spending habits and how resources are distributed, with the ultimate goal to identify the expenditures that provide the least benefit to the system, eliminate inefficiencies and work with existing resources to generate more revenue for teaching and learning, Meza said.

The school system will split funding for the initiative with the Gates Foundation.

The system will contribute $360,000 with $840,000 provided by the Gates Foundation for a total cost of $1.2 million.

The process will take about 18 months, Meza said.

Results from reworking the budget and analyzing spending practices will include a new budget for the 2014-2015 school year and a three- to five-year strategic finance plan.

Looking ahead, Meza said, the district will be able to better plan for needs related to bonds and tax revenue.

Meza said national consultants are still in the process of being interviewed.

They also will build in a process to gather input from the community, administrators and teachers in terms of prioritizing spending.

Meza said the project also will help provide clear and detailed accountability for how public dollars are being spent.

Most funding to the school system is not increasing, Meza said.

By reworking the budget, the district will be able to sustain reform goals as well as fund new initiatives, such as incentive pay for teachers and a new Advanced Placement school — without needing to rely on grants.

Often there is a windfall of money for new programs, Meza said, but once the money evaporates, so do the programs.

In addition, Meza cited increases in mandated costs including retirement benefits.

When he came to the district in 2011, Meza said it was highly bureaucratic with a large centralized office.

Through the Gates Foundation grant, the district will have the resources to better achieve the goal of directing more money into classrooms, he said.

The board also approved a contract with 1-World, an organization that will provide 20 hours of interpreting training for bilingual paraprofessionals, as well as a memorandum of understanding with the Louisiana Department of Education to share the cost of vetting charter school applications by reviewing and selecting charter schools through the state-developed application process and according to the state’s timeline.