What do you see as the main job responsibilities of a school board representative and how many school board meetings have you attended in person in the last two years?

Every school system must have a great leader.  The School Board appoints its Superintendent.  Our current superintendent’s contract was extended one year to end in 2019.  This Board will be charged with evaluating the current superintendent and determining if he should be replaced and with whom.

The first sentence of LRS 17:81 reads: Each local school board shall serve in a policymaking capacity that is in the best interest of all students enrolled in schools under the board’s jurisdiction.  Although the Superintendent and his staff are constituted primarily with experienced professional  educators who create and recommend proposed policies to the Board, the Board has considerable leeway to make rules and to establish policies relative to schools, students, teachers and other school employees and to evaluate and act upon the recommendations and reports of the Superintendent.  It should not be a rubber stamp Board.

The School Board is the governing authority of the school system and as such is the entity authorized to adopt and responsible for the adoption of the school system budget.  Under this broad umbrella of fiscal responsibility are numerous policies and actions for which the School Board must provide oversight including informing the public concerning the progress and needs of the schools, the instructional program and the financial status of the School systems, accurately accounting for all receipts and expenditures.

I began occasionally attending school board meetings when my children were enrolled in school prior to my becoming a teacher in 1992.  I became very active beginning in 2009 not only attending school board meetings but in offering testimony and collaborating with school board members who at the time were resisting the proposed school reform which promoted the privatization of our public schools.  Since 2010 I have attended and testified at school board meetings regularly.

 

What is the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) and why is it important to the St. Tammany schools?

Article VIII Sec.13(B) of the Louisiana Constitution provides for the MFP which is the primary funding mechanism for public K-12 education.  The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) annually develops and adopts the formula used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools and to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems. Technically the MFP refers to both the State and local funding of public schools, but is more commonly used to describe the State contribution to public education funding.  To put it simply, it is provided as a block grant to each school district (or other LEA – charters) on a per pupil basis.  In reality, it is a very complicated formula that I cannot explain in detail and certainly the public has little to know understanding of.

The MFP is important to ALL school districts because it provides a percentage of their budget larger than the local contribution.  St. Tammany expects approximately $212.3 million funding through the MFP and local funding is projected at $203.8 million.

 

The state has imposed numerous unfunded mandates on the St. Tammany school system. Discuss two of these mandates and how they affect the school-operating budget.

The mandate for administering numerous standardized tests represents an unfunded mandate in that no money is provided to districts to cover their costs for administration of the tests.  Additionally, the tests are designed to be administered on computers so the districts have had to spend millions on technology, internet services and maintenance.

I believe that the district portion of the teacher retirement benefits and health insurance are also unfunded mandates.

The State’s mandate to adopt Common Core Standards created a huge expense for districts which have had to continuously rewrite their curriculum and provide ever changing resources as recommended by the State.

There are numerous policies mandated by the LDOE and/or the Legislature that come with no extra  funding. Example:  The necessity to provide French Immersion classes when requests meet legislative requirements.  This requires classrooms, teachers and new materials.

 

Tammany has an “out of district” policy that states a student must attend the public school in the district where the parent/ guardian owns a home and claims a homestead exemption or has proof of rent or lease.  There have been reported cases in which the policy has been violated.  A by-product of the policy violation is the overcrowding of some schools and under-utilization of others. Do you think anything should be done to balance the enrollment and reduce the need for more buildings? If so, what?

I have no statistics upon which to base an allegation that the “out of district” policy has been violated to the point that it has resulted in overcrowding of some schools and underutilization of others.    I know for a fact from experience as a teacher in the system that there are violations.  It is the responsibility of certain central office staff to manage and monitor enrollment and the responsibility of school principals to report any suspected violations. I have never known of a school that was “underutilized” but I know there are, of course, schools that are overcrowded.

As school enrollment districts grow unevenly there must be redistricting and new schools built of facilities enlarged.  School board members need to provide constant oversight regarding the future planning as schools aren’t built in a day.  Parents HATE redistricting but it is a necessity when existing facilities are not sufficient.  Local governmental entities must report to the school district when approval is given for residential developments so that they can consider future needs in their plans. School Board members represent “assigned schools” which may or not be located within their voting district.  It should be the particular responsibility of each School Board member to interact with those assigned schools and the communities surrounding them so that they can assist in forecasting future growth and needs.

When it is found that a school facility is underutilized or overcrowded school board members need to inquire as to the circumstances, including the possible enrollment of students out of district, and make recommendations to administration to remedy the situation.  Balancing the enrollment is a complicated venture that involves redistricting and federal guidelines.  I cannot state strongly enough that parents HATE being moved.

 

A major concern to parents and voters is the safety of our children while they are in our care at school.  By the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, all 55 schools will have a school resource officer (SRO) funded by FEMA and the BP oil settlement.  These funds will eventually expire.  Would you favor increasing the school board tax millage to cover this cost or do you have another suggestion for coming up with the money?

Parents have expressed great concern about the safety of their children during the school day and in light of the highly publicized and horrendous school shootings that have taken place in various states, there is no denying that a similar incident can happen anywhere.  I believe the public strongly supports the enlistment of School Resource Officers and the Mental Health Providers are a long time coming and needed.

I would first need to study the details of the funding and employment of the Resource Officers and the assignment of Mental Health Providers and their assigned duties.  Along with that analysis I would be determined to ask for a study of ALL school facilities to determine what physical changes need to be made to reduce the ability of an offender on to school grounds.  Providing a single Resource Officer in a school that has open access in multiple places would render the effort ineffective.  I would also like a report on how school personnel and students are trained to both prevent and react to an incident.

In my opinion there should be a shared responsibility with local law enforcement for funding the safety of schools in the form of resource officers. It is possible that the Sheriff’s Office and local city police could ask for millage increases which would not only fund the resource officers but the balance of an officer’s duty when he is not at the school.  That could be a win-win for both agencies.  I don’t know the details of the funding process for the Resource Officers. Are the Sheriff Deputies new hires specifically for schools?  How are the RSO’s employed during the year when school is out?  Do they provide security at after school events and activities? At this time, the School Board has not identified a source for continuous funding for the SROs or Mental Health Providers.

 

The Louisiana Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program allows school districts to reject exemptions that decrease the tax revenue available to the school board. What action, if any, should the school board take in compliance with the current law to adopt new policies and standards for industries seeking tax exemptions?  Do you think the school board should accept or reject most exemptions?

The School Board Business Affairs Committee voted at the September 6 meeting to develop a policy for awarding or denying ITEPs. I testified regarding the subject and offered information relative to the new ITEP regulations.  It was obvious that neither the Board nor administration was well versed on the subject.

An in-depth study prepared by Together Louisiana revealed that St. Tammany has lost approximately $1,068,000 dollars annually to ITEPs. Because St. Tammany is not heavily industrial this loss is relatively small compared to many other parishes.  However, it is my position that the School Board is not in the economic development business.  Tax monies provided by the public to the school board should not be given away to private enterprise particularly when the companies asking for exemptions are not new emerging industry that can show how their growth will ultimately greatly contribute to the coffers of the school system.  I believe a well put together, comprehensive policy would be beneficial so that every entity that requests an ITEP is treated the same. Several other school boards throughout the state have denied ITEPs this year.  Historical research has shown that the promises of contributing the local economies and the actual results were in general woefully lacking.  I recommend everyone read the Together Louisiana report.