239 T’bonne school jobs to be cut

Relma Beadle
June 2, 2010
Free St. Mary culinary school opens
June 4, 2010
Relma Beadle
June 2, 2010
Free St. Mary culinary school opens
June 4, 2010

More than 200 full-time employees working for the Terrebonne Parish School Board could face unemployment. Officials voted last Tuesday to approve next year’s budget, which contains a reduction in force, a controversial and often-protested measure that will eliminate groves of positions based on seniority.

With declining sales tax revenues, down by about $9.2 million since last year, Superintendent Philip Martin said the school system had no other choice. The budget was approved by a vote of 7-2, with board members Clark Bonvillain and Rickie Pitre voting in opposition.

Student enrollment across the district has dropped by about 1,500 over the past five years, but the number of employees catering to those individuals has not followed suit. Now, there is one employee for every seven students, noted Pitre, a representative from the 4th District. For officials, that ratio has become too costly.

Last year, the board exceeded its general fund by more than $4 million. Some officials have said it is not their fault, blaming past administrations for excessive spending and careless practices. The economy, on the other hand, has also dealt some tough hands.

In April, board members approved a recommendation to implement the policy known as RIF (Reduction in Force) by a similar vote of 7-2. “Our local economy has taken a significant hit,” explained Martin during that meeting. “When you start adding these numbers up, they become mind boggling.” At that time, it was unclear how the measure would be wielded and how many people would be removed from the system.

The move brought sharp criticism from locals who urged leaders to find other ways to save money. Earlier attempts to patch growing financial gaps, however, produced little results. Last year, about 80 positions were left open after they had been vacated, but those efforts were not enough, said Martin.

With deficits growing at the state level, local districts have been forced to pick up the tab on stipends for National Board Certified teachers. That burden, over the years, has become quite weighty alongside other programs that were originally funded by the state and then dropped.

A total of 239 full-time positions, fueled by general and special revenue funds, will be axed by the beginning of August. A portion of those slots will dissolve when employees retire. Some workers will be assigned new duties at the same pay rate. Others will face unemployment.

About 65 part-time positions will be cut.

“We have too many employees. We’re overstaffed,” said board member Donald Duplantis.

After fielding concerns from Maureen Landry, an official representing children with dyslexia, Duplantis indicated that things could be worse next year. “If you think we’re cutting fat this year, next year we’re going to be cutting bone,” he said.

Duplantis assured Landry that students with dyslexia would not be put on the backburner, regardless of the board’s financial situation.

The superintendent said it is not clear how many people will be jobless once August arrives.

Pitre introduced several amendments to the budget, which were shot down, that included eliminating 20 bus drivers and restoring a slew of counselor positions. “I think we need to look at all departments,” he said. Bonvillain was Pitre’s only supporter.

Roosevelt Thomas successfully passed an amendment that will reinstate four counselor positions if the board decides to roll forward property mileages in the future. If approved, area households can expect to pay about $1 extra in taxes, explained Martin. For the district, however, the measure could rake in about $300,000 in additional revenue.

Pitre and Bonvillain voted against the change and no other amendments were proposed.

In order to balance the budget, the board needs about $11.3 million. RIF will provide nearly $10 million. To help meet their mark, officials are calling for reductions in materials, supplies and purchased services, totaling more than $800,000.

About $10,000 in free lunches for Foster Grandparent volunteers will also be scrapped.

Van Johnson, an outreach worker for the program, told officials last Tuesday that without the meals, the program would not be able to operate inside the schools. He asked officials to take a look at the program again once additional funding becomes available.

Philip Martin – Superintendent says system has no other choice but to cut jobs