St. John Schools starting with 30 fewer staff

Published 12:09 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

RESERVE — The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board reduced more than 30 positions within the School District as school leaders ready for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The St. John School Board passed its budget last week, which eliminates 20 regular teacher positions, two pre-school teacher positions that moved under the Head Start umbrella, four uncertified special education teachers, two special education aids, one employee in the maintenance department and two bus drivers.

Felix Boughton, School District executive director of finance, said the moves were made through attrition, adding no regular-termed school employees lost their jobs. However, some employees hired after the beginning of the 2014-15 school year are not returning.

“There were no layoffs,” he said. “It was either people that retired or were late hires. When someone is hired after the school year starts, we only guarantee them a job for a year.”

The reduction in employee total continues a trend of a declining workforce that began after Hurricane Isaac struck the region in August 2012.

The District used to employ more than 900 people and will enter the 2015-16 school year Wednesday with approximately 850 employees.

“Isaac is pretty much the culprit in the reduction and stemming,” Boughton said. “You lose 700 students (since Hurricane Isaac), that means you lose that much in state dollars. The economy is low now too. Sales taxes and property taxes are down now too. The Board’s three major funding sources are all down.”

School leaders have identified the 2015-16 fiscal year as critical, as the district will operate on a projected $4.5 million less in revenue.

“If that happens, we’ll have more budget cuts to make in 2016-17,” Boughton said. “It’s just going to go deeper and deeper.”

School leaders estimate it costs $65 million a year to operate the District with its current offerings.

If revenues drop to $61 million, school leaders say $4 million worth of services could conceivably be cut going into the 2016-17 school year.

“The (School) Board will have to decide if they want to cut $4 million worth of programs or go after different revenue and tell the people this is what it takes to run the system,” Boughton said. “Our revenues have dropped so this is what we will have to cut, or you have to give us the money to fund it. That is something that will have to be talked about through Christmas.”

District 8 School Board member Russ Wise said no services were eliminated, but District officials had to reduce almost everything.

School Board members considered eliminating the transportation program for summer athletics, but an appeal from Board members who said athletics participation kept some students in school helped keep the program funded.

School officials said $30,000 was moved from the maintenance budget to the transportation budget to fund the effort.

To reduce wear and tear on school buses and lessen the total number of trips, thus reducing costs, field trips in St. John the Baptist Parish are moving exclusively to Saturdays.

“By offering (field trips) on Saturdays, it should reduce our maintenance costs,” Boughton said. “We didn’t want to cut it out, because if a teacher is really high on bringing her class somewhere, we wanted to offer it.”

The School District is also returning two buses that have been rented since Hurricane Isaac.

To save costs, overtime has been eliminated for janitors.

Wise said school board members are paid $9,600 a year on an $800-a-month rate.

“I have instructed the business department I am donating my net pay for the remainder of the year to the schools so we use what little money that is to buy supplies for the schools and kids,” he said. “I’ll be working for free and invited others to do so.”