School Board rejects layoff proposal

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board rejected an initial reduction in force proposal at a special meeting held Thursday.

The unanimous vote came after a more-than-one-hour-long, closed-door executive session during which school board members were updated on negotiations between district administration and the local teachers’ union. The rejection, however, did not put to rest the idea that layoffs may still be necessary to balance the district’s budget by the July 1 deadline.

Said board member Russ Wise, “We are still in negotiations.”

He explained the board is seeking a way to reduce the number of positions eliminated and he, for one, had not yet cleared the possibility of layoffs from the table.

The proposed reduction-in-force plan called for the elimination of 40 to 45 outside-the-classroom positions.

Wise also suggested Linda Johnson of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state Superintendent Paul Pastorek be invited to the next meeting so they could see first hand the struggles the board is currently facing and offer suggestions on how the district could continue to improve education with fewer dollars.

After the meeting, Superintendent Courtney Millet said, “The administration proposed what we believe to be fiscally responsible. It was a very difficult decision.”

Carolyn Batiste, president of the St. John teachers’ union, seemed pleased with the board’s decision.

“I’m glad,” she said. “That’s given us an idea that they’re willing to listen.”

Although Batiste could not give any specific details about the ongoing negotiations, she said, “We’ve given them something to look at.”

Batiste said the two sides would likely meet again early next week. The central office is closed on Fridays throughout the summer.

Millet also presented the board with a proposal to eliminate three administrative positions in the central office. One of those, she said, was the result of a pending retirement, however. Other central office employees will absorb the duties of those positions.

These eliminations mark another step in the evolution of Millet’s plan to streamline operations in the central office. Before the start of the 2009-10 school year, the board approved a plan to reorganize the administrative structure of the central office, a move that saved the district $300,000.

The board will vote on the plan at next week’s meeting, which will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Godchaux Grammar cafeteria.

Prior to the executive session, Chris Pellegrin of CSRS presented the board with a proposal to make some changes to the Master Plan for improving school facilities throughout the parish.

When planning the budget for renovation projects, HVAC improvements at Fifth Ward Elementary School had to be scaled down to fit within the budget, but when the system further deteriorated, it was decided funding for the project would come out of the General Fund rather than funds from the bond issue. In light of recent budget woes, however, Pellegrin said the adminstration asked if CSRS could find a way to fund the $1.3 million project with the bond issue revenue. To do so, CSRS devised a plan to remove some of the elements of the renovation plan at the Leon Godchaux Junior High site, as the current budget plan, which has yet to be approved by the board, calls for a two-year phase out of programs there.

While the St. John Educational Advisory Council has already approved the modifications to the Master Plan, board member Albert Burl III requested a full list of the changes.

Following that, School Board Vice President Patrick Sanders moved that the item be merely introduced at the meeting so members could have time to review the list before voting on the matter June 17.

Despite a warning from Pellegrin that the project may not be finished by the start of the 2010-11 school year if immediate action were not taken, the board approved the motion unanimously.