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School Board looks to recruit certified teachers

 

LAPLACE — Attracting and maintaining certified teachers was a challenge for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the current climate of uncertainty has placed a spotlight on the issue.

School Board member Gerald Keller commented that it seems like the school system is “moving backwards” in regards to retaining certified teachers. He said 18 certified teachers and four non-certified teachers have resigned.

During a July School Board workshop at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, human resources director Serina Duke stated that more uncertified teachers were being hired to ensure classrooms are fully staffed to begin the 2020-2021 school year.

New Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin said the first step to retaining teachers is making sure they are being taken care of. Valuing the employees and keeping them safe during the pandemic is critical, but it is only one part of a culture shift that needs to occur within the school district.

“It means that we need leadership, culture and systems in our building,” Hookfin said. “You can have a teacher who is totally satisfied knowing that they are being professionally developed on an ongoing basis. What we have to do is diligently get out there and market our program. We have to connect with educational institutions to ensure that we have a pipeline of educators coming through. What does that look like? It looks like us recruiting teachers before they even graduate to participate in what teaching and learning looks like in St. John the Baptist, regardless of whether it is virtual or not.”

School Board member Debbie Schum noted that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was having difficulty placing student teachers due to certification requirements. The guidelines have since been relaxed.

“Now all they (supervisors of student teachers) must have is a highly effective rating from the past year and recommendation from the principal,” Schum said. “My understanding is that there are 80 student teachers across the state that need to be placed. If we don’t have student teachers coming to our schools to work, then we’re not likely going to get them if they go do their student teaching in another district.”

Board member Keith Jones recalled St. John Parish had a recruitment process involving universities “many HRs ago.” Keller agreed it would be helpful to revitalize teacher recruitment efforts. He recounted how during his stint as superintendent, district representatives regularly visited HBCUs and large universities across Louisiana.

Hookfin said the district must lay some groundwork before restarting these efforts.

“In our district office, we have many collegiate representations. I would definitely go back to my school and say, ‘we need you.’ But we need to have a plan in place before we go recruiting,” she said.

In other school news, Chief Financial Officer Sara Loupe introduced the 2019-2020 amended budget and the proposed 2020-2021 to reflect changes in expenses related to COVID.

“We are required to amend a budget any time our expenditures exceed five percent over the budgeted amount or any time our revenues fail to meet five percent of the budgeted amount,” Loupe said. “The budget is based on historical data and estimates from the most current information we have available. It is a living, breathing and changing document up until the time of adoption.”

St. John Parish Public Schools is expecting additional property tax revenues for the 2020-2021 school year as a result of Marathon’s expired ITEP exemptions.

“However, as we budget, we have to be mindful that this increase in local revenues for us will also, in future years, impact our state revenues,” Loupe said.

Conversely, Loupe is projecting lower sales tax revenues for 2020-2021 as compared to the previous fiscal year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Salaries and benefits are by far the largest expenditure, accounting for 85 percent of the total budget. The pandemic has also increased expenditures.

“We’ve had increased costs incurred because of the purchases of PPE and sanitation in order to ensure the safety of our students and our teachers,” Loupe said. “While the district was planning on becoming one to one (offering technology to every student), COVID had us move a little faster than we originally planned.”

School Board President Patrick Sanders is planning a workshop to further discuss finances.

Sanders also spoke about securing equipment to stream School Board meetings via Facebook Live as soon as next month.