Layoffs looming for school employees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Following a relatively brief executive session during which St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members were updated on the district’s negotiations with the local teachers’ union, a somewhat cantankerous audience listened with particular interest as Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton introduced the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The package included a list of positions the board plans to eliminate to bring budget numbers in line with projected revenue. In addition to non-certified teachers and late hires, whose contracts were not renewed for the upcoming school year, the plan includes the elimination of over 60 outside-the-classroom positions. Although some of those eliminations will be handled through attrition, according to Superintendent Courtney Millet, 40 to 45 will be the result of a reduction in force.

The proposed layoffs brought cries of foul from some members of the audience and even some board members who thought the district waited too long address the looming budget crisis.

Board Vice President Patrick Sanders asked, “Administratively, when did you know we were in trouble?”

Boughton replied he had been telling the board for 18 months that financial problems lay ahead, but he noted the administration did not want to tackle the budget until standardized testing was completed.

Sanders then asked if some of the recent turmoil surrounding the budget could have been avoided if the budget had been addressed earlier.

“I think we would have been in the same place,” Boughton replied.

Board member Keith Jones said he thought the administration would have a better chance of gaining board approval of the layoffs if they did not seem to be targeting a particular class of people, while his colleague Albert Burl III said, “As of right now, I’m not going to support any cut of any employee.”

Board member Russ Wise, on the other hand, chided both board and audience members for acting so surprised at the current situation.

“(Boughton) has been telling us that this was coming,” he said. “We have known this was coming for 18 months.”

He also pointed out that some of the current problems have come about because the state squandered some of the teachers’ retirement fund in the stock market, and the district must now pay $2.5 million to help make up for the loss. His arguments, however, seemed to fall on deaf ears, especially when he scolded the members of the teachers’ union for being unmoving during negotiations.

“We have been trying to work with the union on an ongoing basis. The union ain’t doing it,” he said as disapproving comments emanated from the audience.

Millet, for her part, held an opinion similar to Wise’s.

“Nothing has been kept from anybody,” she said. “Anyone who would say it’s a surprise is being disingenuous.”

Union representatives declined to comment on the matter.

Board members will have a week to decide whether they will approve the proposed layoffs. A vote will be taken at a special meeting to be held Thursday at the Gochaux Grammar Cafeteria in Reserve at 6 p.m.

If the layoffs are approved, names of those being laid off will be released.