July 28, 2014 01:14 PM
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As this year's budget process slogs forward and the Lafayette Parish School Board maintains its hard-headed stance against using any of its more than $60 million reserve fund, another slate of critical programs have rolled through the chopping block, despite the ramifications for the school system.

 

As this year's budget process slogs forward and the Lafayette Parish School Board maintains its hard-headed stance against using any of its more than $60 million reserve fund, another slate of critical programs have rolled through the chopping block, despite the ramifications for the school system.

 
"[T]hat's their responsibility," says LPSB's Mark Allen Babineaux, commenting on cutting discipline personnel from the budget and its impact on school system principals.  

Over recent weeks, the board has whittled this year's $23.5 million budget deficit down by about $16 million, leaving around $7 million left to cut.

And while the board's aggressive approach to the deficit may look good on paper, don't be mistaken, it will carry serious consequences. One area the board has set its sights on in recent weeks has been a $2 million security package, put into effect back in January 2013 as a response to a startling rise in disciplinary issues within the school system and claims from teachers about feeling unsafe in their classrooms.

This package, it's worth noting, was approved by the board at a time before its investigation of the superintendent, as the disciplinary issue marked one of the board's first major points of contention - in addition to the Thad Welch diploma issue - with Superintendent Pat Cooper, even prompting a questionable teacher survey crafted by board member Greg Awbrey seeking information from teacher's about how school system administrators were handling discipline and classroom safety issues.

According to this report from The Daily Advertiser, between 2011 and 2012, on-campus arrests had jumped by 51 percent, meaning the safety package was a needed investment by the board. It covered the costs of on-campus police officers, additional assistant principals, the dean of students positions, about 40 in-school suspension facilitators, and support staff for the alternative program at N.P. Moss.

School system data shows the program had a striking impact in a short time, dropping the major discipline referrals down 13 percent, with a 15 percent drop in high schools, 30 percent in middle schools and a 7 percent decrease in elementary school referrals.

Another testament to the success of the security package comes from Carencro High Principal Ken Roebuck, whose staff benefited from an extra assistant principal, resource officer and a dean of students, all aimed at curbing what at the time was a school with a serious discipline problem. The proof, Roebuck tells the Advertiser, is in the numbers, as the school's discipline write-ups dropped from 5,800 down to 2,700 in a one year span. So too did the number of fights, adds Roebuck, which decreased from about two to three per day to 10 for the whole school year.

"We could not have made those strides without those people here," Roebuck says. "If we lose them, it's going to back to the way it was. We don't want to go backwards. Culture and academics - the two go hand-in-hand."

In addition to a likely return of the school's disciplinary issues, Roebuck says the loss of those positions will also have a great impact on teachers.

"Their workloads would increase tremendously," says Roebuck. "I don't think the school board realizes the repercussions of what they're trying to do."

So, if the security package has proven such an overwhelming success in just a year, why has it nearly all been eliminated from the budget, even by board members who supported the initiative back in 2013? That's a good, and perhaps unanswerable question.

One of those board members is Tehmi Chassion, who despite voting in 2013 to approve the $2 million in funding, has played an integral role this year in its dismantling.

"At the time, we saw fit to give extra support at some schools," Chassion tells the Advertiser. "It was under a balanced budget and great fiscal responsibility on the part of the central office. At this time, we've made an enormous amount of cuts, and still face millions of dollars in the deficit. Before I even approach taking a teacher that directly interacts with students out of the classroom, we have to cut in other places. It's very disappointing, absolutely. But we can't take away the normal and regular support for all schools at the expense of extra support for a few schools."

According to board member Mark Allen Babineaux - who based on his recommendations at the start of this year's budget process revealed his distaste for the alternative program at N.P. Moss by calling for its outright closure - the increased responsibility caused by the loss of discipline-related staff will have to fall on the shoulders of each school's principal.

"[T]hat's their responsibility," he tells the Advertiser.

Perhaps Babineaux and his fellow board members like Chassion are just unaware of the other countless responsibilities school system principals are already faced with. Or perhaps they don't care, because if things keep going as they are now, the number of new responsibilities faced by principals in the upcoming school year will only keep rising as this year's budget process moves forward.

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