Despite relatively good finances230 school employees in Baton Rouge have received letters informing them that their current jobs are being eliminated when the current school year ends and they can apply for – or, failing that, be reassigned to – vacant jobs at other schools.
Unlike years past, these staffing shifts are not strictly an effort to balance the books. Instead, they are part of a larger effort by East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse to plug an expected 475 vacancies, with the goal of having all core teaching positions filled before the 2022-23 school year starts in August.
“In order to equitably provide for all of our students, some educators and support staff members will be reassigned to new school sites,” Narcisse explained in an email sent to parents Monday. “This does not mean that these valuable employees will no longer be part of the district. In fact, we ask that they serve instead where they are needed most. “
Narcisse said he expects every displaced school employee “will be able to find a role in the district where they can continue to serve our students and community.”
Some affected educators, however, say they are happy where they are and are reluctant to relocate to schools that have long struggled to hire and retain staff. Some have raised the possibility they will leave the school system entirely.
School Board member Dadrius Lanus said the staffing shift is a risk worth taking. He also said it could increase enrollment, thereby increasing state education funding.
Lanus said too many schools – including many in his north Baton Rouge district – have significant staff shortages that lead parents to take their children elsewhere, and that needs to change.
“They don’t want their child to stay inside of a school that is understaffed,” Lanus said. “I could understand a parent feeling that way.”
Employee shortages are bedeviling not only schools in Baton Rouge but all across the country, a trend blamed in part on fallout from the pandemic. In the Baton Rouge region, even the highest rated schools are having more openings than they’ve had in the past.
Angela Reams-Brown, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, said the shortages are likely to get worse.
“When Amazon opens (its new center in Baton Rouge), we are going to lose support staff, because Amazon is going to be offering competing pay and benefits, ”Reams-Brown said.
The newly displaced Baton Rouge school employees will have a chance to apply for new jobs Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at a job fair at Liberty High School, 1105 Lee Drive.
The list, however, remains in flux.
Mayfair Lab School, a magnet school in Baton Rouge with an A letter grade from the state, was in line to lose at least 10 positions, sparking immediate outrage from parents. But school district officials reversed course Tuesday, reinstating the cut positions.
The proposed cuts at Mayfair were a particularly bitter pill because it threatened a core feature of the school, having two teachers in every classroom in the lower grades. It’s an instructional approach modeled after LSU Lab School, which served as the inspiration for Mayfair Lab when it opened in 2013.
“Well, what a 24-hour period it has been, but very happy to report all our teachers are coming back and our program will continue on!” announced Will McNaughton, an active Mayfair parent, after the school learned of the reversal.
Kiran Patel, who has a kindergartner at Mayfair, said he’s glad the positions were restored but faults the school system for not doing their homework on the history and the structure of Mayfair.
“Instead of talking to us before, they waited until the parents were all fired up,” Patel said.
Teachers and other school staff began receiving their letters late last week and into this week. These “impact letters” as they are called, are part of an annual budget process in which school principals figure out the number of staff members they will have the following school year.
The number of impact letters issued typically depends on the financial fortunes of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. In April 2019, the school system sent out about 190 such letters as the district was prepping for $ 20 to $ 30 million in budget cuts.
This year, though, the financial picture is much improved at present.
The district’s revised $ 499 million general operating budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, shows revenue growing at nearly double the rate of spending. That added revenue, plus additional revenue from the previous fiscal year, has almost doubled the district’s reserves from $ 28.6 to $ 52.6 million.
The additional reserves put the school system in stronger shape as it settles on spending plans for next year. A draft of the proposed 2022-23 budget is scheduled to be released Friday.
Savings from these staffing changes are being used to pay for other positions. Some are existing positions that Narcisse created last year using federal COVID relief money. Others are new positions.
For instance, high-performing schools next year will have literacy and math coaches, not just failing schools. Other new staff positions include attendance clerks, parental involvement aides, social workers and support personnel, school officials say.
To determine what positions they need to shed, the department of Human Resources devised a new staffing formula this year. Also new this year is that Central Office insisted that schools keep some positions no matter what but allowed principals leeway on other positions.
To determine which employees received impact letters, schools looked at their effectiveness in the classroom based on their state evaluations, their years of service and their attendance, school officials said.
The Advocate has asked for, but has yet to receive, a school-by-school breakdown of the 230 impact letters.
Valencea Johnson, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators, said she has not seen a breakdown either, but said she’s learned that one high school in Baton Rouge is losing 30 employees. She said the timing of the letters, coming at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week last week, is disheartening.
She said some displaced employees may end up in a better job, but she worries most won’t and will opt to leave for greener pastures elsewhere.
“We are taking a step in the wrong direction yet again in East Baton Rouge Parish,” she said.