Schools Cut to the Core

Tuesday, Nov. 16
November 16, 2010
Neighbors angered over blight
November 18, 2010
Tuesday, Nov. 16
November 16, 2010
Neighbors angered over blight
November 18, 2010

The Tri-parish public school districts saw a rise in their performance scores and a decline in state funding in 2010, but they will face an even greater challenge moving forward n the statewide canceled allotment of $147 million in EduJobs funds.

The Associated Press reported State Superintendent Paul Pastorek told school superintendents two weeks ago that they would not be receiving the money, and instead, the governor’s office would use it to offset cuts in postsecondary education.

“We’re also a little bit concerned about just this week, the school districts lost the promised EduJobs money,” St. Mary Parish Superintendent Donald Aguillard said. “We were stunned at that disclosure. We were expecting to use our allocation – which was set to be about $2 million n in next year’s budget to help offset the rising cost of retirement benefits that districts have to pay.”

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top advisor, said in a written statement the state wouldn’t have the opportunity to receive the $147 million if they didn’t use it to meet the higher education funding guidelines, the AP reported.

“It’s critical to use all available dollars to address budget challenges so the state has more resources to protect critical services, like higher education, K-12 education and healthcare,” Rainwater said in the statement.

Terrebonne Parish Superintendent Philip Martin said enhancing education and the state financial issues are in direct correlation.

“Public education has a bull’s-eye painted on its back as the cash cow to relieve the state of its financial problems,” Martin said. “We all understand n higher education understands, K-12 understands that the state has some significant financial dilemmas. But cutting education is not the answer to the financial woes of the state.

“We all know the value and importance in the world economy that we’re in today and how significant and how that will impact the kids for the rest of their lives, number one. Number two, if we hope to resolve our financial dilemma, the cure for that is a robust, healthy economy with businesses moving in, wanting to move here. …It’s not a place businesses will want to flock to. It increases that financial snowball that the state is dealing with in my opinion.”

The cuts affect the same fiscal year that saw the Tri-parish districts collectively face $4.5 million in cuts to the state’s Minimum Funding Program, an enrollment based fund.

Despite consistent statewide declines in public school enrollment, the base amount granted per student n which typically increases 2.75 percent annually n has remained frozen at $5,035 per enrolled student since the 2009 fiscal year.

“We’re dealing with the education of children, number one,” Martin said. “We were already struggling and although we’ve achieved some success that we are proud of, we still have a long way to go. We’re dealing with the education of children. I don’t know what else needs to be said.”

Martin also said he expects the 2011-2012 public school enrollment to remain steady, and that any increase or decrease will be slight. Terrebonne’s 2010-2011 enrollment is 17,788, Lafourche’s 14,633 and St. Mary’s 9,604.

As funding and enrollment consistently decline, student achievement across the Tri-parishes has consistently improved.

Lafourche Parish saw their District Performance Score (DPS) n a measure of student achievement across the district – rise 2.7 points from 2009 to 2010. St. Mary and Terrebonne saw growth rates of 2.6 and 2.1, respectively.

Lafourche scored highest in the Tri-parish area with a 94.4 DPS, St. Mary scored 94.3 and Terrebonne scored 92.3.

“On student achievement, we are pleased but far from satisfied,” Martin said. “We’ve made tremendous progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. There is no question that we’re going to continue to make more progress in the future. We’re pleased and looking forward to greater increases in student achievement.”

Aguillard said he was excited to report last week that thus far in 2010, student attendance is hovering at about 96 percent.

“Student achievement has been steadily on the rise in St. Mary Parish, particularly since 2006,” he said. “We have actually grown 15.2 points since 2004, which by our calculations puts us fifth best in the state in terms of growth in that period of time. We’re excited about our student achievement.

“It’s no secret that back in 2004, our DPS was 79.1, and today we’re at 94.3,” Aguillard said. “We have challenged our instructional division to believe that we can continue to show annual gains. Our focus is to try to get to a DPS of 100. We think we’re going to be there in a year or two at the rate we’re growing. We’re excited.”