East St. John Elementary vote leading to layoffs

Published 12:12 am Saturday, April 23, 2016

School Board nixes construction suspension plan geared to explore operating revenue

LAPLACE — Layoffs are coming to St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools.

Forced to choose between continuing with the rebuilding of East St. John Elementary School or suspending the project to review the possibility of diverting some of the funds to maintain employee levels across the School District, School Board members voted overwhelmingly Thursday to continue school construction.

By a vote of nine for construction, one (District 8’s Russ Wise) against and one absent (District 7’s Phillip Johnson), School Board members voted to continue plans to build an $8.7 million East St. John Elementary School on a reduced footprint where an August fire caused massive damage.

East St. John Elementary students have been attending classes on the Leon Godchaux Junior High campus in Reserve since the Aug. 14 blaze.

A last ditch effort to secure operating revenue was recommended by District administrators during Thursday’s School Board meeting via the recommendation of a 90-day work suspension at East St. John Elementary while School leaders commissioned a study to review all options including diverting some or all of the funds to cover expected revenue shortfalls at the start of the next fiscal year July 1.

School District administrators and School Board members made clear the voter defeat of a new quarter-cent sales tax earlier this month put employee layoffs and service reductions on the table.

“We came in trying to save jobs,” Superintendent Kevin George said following Thursday’s meeting. “We didn’t want to layoff any employees. We didn’t want to reduce any services, but as we saw what the community was wanting, we just made a decision at the table to say, ‘well, do you guys understand that this decision means that people will be laid off?’

“We were trying to avoid reduced services and avoid employee layoffs. The community didn’t want to hear that. So, that’s fine. I told the Board since last week when we first floated this idea: Whichever way you want to go is fine. What we want to try to do is protect all our positions, all the services that are currently being provided. If the plan would have gone through, we would not have had to lay people off.”

School Board members faced a vocal crowd at their meeting Thursday, which took place at LaPlace Elementary School.

A half-dozen audience members spoke in favor of keeping plans on track to build a new East St. John Elementary School. Many more in the crowd cheered each speaker as they made their points.

Wise stated before the vote that a motion to continue construction would mean lost jobs in the District.

It was not stated this week if those layoffs were expected to be teachers, support staff members or a combination of both.

Before Thursday’s vote, District 1 School Board member Russell Jack said it was easy for residents to throw blame at the School Board.

“This Board has been put in the position between a rock and hard place,” he said. “Just like the parents and community members that have come out here and tried to bash the Board and this Administration, y’all could have gone out and supported this tax and this Board wouldn’t have been in this position.”