By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
COVINGTON — The second big announcement about major changes in the employment situation for the St. Tammany school system will be revealed this Thursday night by Superintendent Trey Folse at the Committee as a Whole meeting in the C.J. Schoen Administrative Complex.
Folse will announce his latest decisions about ways to deal with a severe financial crunch hitting all the school system, something all state schools are dealing with due to three years in a row without increased state funding for pupils, all while expenses for teacher pay, retirement plans and health care have been on the rise.
“The School System is facing financial challenges we have never seen before,” Folse said. “Due to the state’s continuing unfunded mandates and non-growth of the Minimum Foundation Program for three consecutive years, we have been forced to reclassify employee responsibilities and consolidate jobs through attrition. Those changes have already been made but others will need approval from the School Board.”
It was barely a month ago when Assistant Superintendent Pete Jabbia confirmed the school system had reclassified approximately 80 employees, targeting librarians, school counselors, curriculum specialists and assistant principals in training.
Jabbia said the school system saved approximately $1 million from the reclassification, which had the following affect:
—K-8 librarians at smaller schools in the parish will be shared between more than one school, and principals have been directed to find a way to keep the libraries open as much as possible.
—Some K-8 school counselors have been returned to the classroom to cut costs, while the 15 curriculum specialists in the school system have been reduced to 10. Jabbia said several specialists retired when informed they would have to begin substituting and have responsibilities changed.
—A parishwide assistant principal program in St. Tammany has been ended completely, and those employees are not being sent back to the classroom.
—The school system also had 10 employees who served as homebound instructors, meaning they would help students who were home due to illness or accidents. That program has been dismantled and the employees returned to the classroom.
Those changes occurring last month were the first step by Folse to address the lack of funding from the state through the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), which previously provided an annual increase to schools, paying a set amount for each pupil in class. But that increase stopped three years ago, and Jabbia said it has cost St. Tammany $45 million. Meanwhile, contributions to teacher retirement plans, as well as other expenses in the school system, continue to rise.
This Thursday night, Folse is expected to present the second part of the plan to the School Board that will address the budget shortfall on the horizon. The superintendent said he hopes to avoid teacher layoffs with his re-organization plan that will be announced.
“At the Thursday Committee as a Whole meeting, we plan on bringing some recommendations to the Board which would help with our cost-cutting measures,” he explained. “My goal this year was to make sure no one lost their job and no one had a decrease in pay and I feel confident after we take these actions to the board we’ll be able to accomplish that.”
Jabbia said the administration approached the financial problem “looking at the way we could affect the least number of people, and the way we would not directly affect classroom instruction.”
Thursday night’s Committee as a Whole meeting is open to the public at the C.J. Schoen Complex, located at 321 N. Theard St., in Covington.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m.