“Tomorrow the teachers will get their letters as to where they will be placed,” WPSB Superintendent W.W. “Butch” Williams said at last night’s meeting. “Understand that we needed to change some teachers around, some of them were better placed at certain grades and we also did everything we could to make the racial balance throughout the parish the same.”
At the April 11 WPSB meeting, the civil action filed with the U.S. district court in June of 1981, Blain A Gilbert Vs Webster Parish School Board was mentioned by Reverend Kenneth Wallace, who spoke in the capacity of interim president of the South West chapter of the NAACP.
“Policies of this court order have not been implemented in the majority of schools in Webster Parish,” he said. “One of the policies states that a black-to-white teacher ratio of 64 percent white to 36 percent black be maintained at each school on a parish wide basis.”
He said that a number of schools in Webster Parish are substantially under the number of black teachers.
“Many schools have only one, two or three black teachers,” Wallace said. “The point is, here we are restructuring, and it’s time to straighten it out and do better. Now is the time to move the numbers that are under the guidelines.”
At the same meeting WPSB President Charles Strong replied to the comments made by Wallace.
“Given the reconfiguration of schools and future teacher appointments and school attendance zones, I assume the matters that Reverend Wallace has mentioned are being considered as we make changes and that the changes will have to be approved by a judge,” Strong said. “It is my understanding that we would be unable to make any changes that did not meet approval of the federal court.”
Williams agreed with Strong.
“Yes that’s correct,” Williams said. “One of the things that we have done, in recognizing that things have happened through the years, such as black teachers only being placed in one or two areas, is we are going to disperse the numbers (of black faculty) throughout the parish, because some of the northern schools do not have as many black teachers as other schools.”
Williams said that there is a shortage of black teachers and the WPSB must compete with other districts that offer incentives, such as free housing or transportation to teachers.
“I have talked with Mrs. Sharp about this problem,” Williams said at the April 11 meeting. “At job fairs, they offer free rent, free automobiles and other incentives for the teachers to move to their districts. So it is difficult because there is a shortage.
“To make matters worse, a lot of retirees we have this year are black,” he continued. “So we will have even less this year.”
At last night’s meeting Williams addressed the issue again.
“We had not previously had a good balance (of black-to-white teacher ratios),” he said. “We tried to balance the ratio as best we can.
“We did have to move some teachers from the south end of the parish to the north and move from the north to the south,” Williams continued. “I’m sure there are some people that are not going to be real happy. But we did the best we can.”
WPSB Assistant Superintendent Jackie Sharp said that a narrative explaining teacher placement had been sent to the district court, along with other restructuring changes that have been proposed by the WPSB.
The changes were made by the WPSB because of an expected deficit of nearly near $5 million for the 2011/2012 school year. Many school districts in the State, such as Caddo and Claiborne, are in a similar situation due to cuts to education on the state level.
“We plan on providing the board and others a packet that breaks down assignments of personnel by schools,” Sharp said. “However, I would not want to release that information before the employee has had their assignment given to them. They need to hear that privately first.”
WPSB member Jerry Lot, District 11, expressed appreciation for considering the teachers in that manner.
“I appreciate that the information is not let out before the teachers can hear it,” he said.
Williams said he was proud that teacher layoffs were not as necessary as they could have been. While there is no exact final figure at this point, it is projected to be a much smaller loss than originally anticipated.
“The thing that I am proudest of at this point in time is we are not going to have to do a lot of RIF’ing (Reduction In Force) teachers,” he said. “I don’t think there are many districts that are in the state we are in that can say that. I feel real good about how this process has worked out and that we are in good shape overall.”
RIF, or Reduction In Force, is a policy that guides the layoff process of the school district. Part of the policy rewards points to faculty with education, tenure, experience and time in the school district. The RIF policy states that the staff with the least points be reduced or laid-off.
Williams attributes the lessening amount of teachers that will need to be laid off to retirements.
“We had a lot of retirements,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have people that bought into the package for retired-return to work employees and some that went ahead and took retirement. It’s not fortunate that we have lost those retirees, but it is fortunate that we are not going to have to layoff what we originally estimated.”
There is still the possibility that positions in Webster Parish schools may be lost through the RIF policy.
Williams did not want to say how many positions might still be RIF’d, but hoped that it is minimal. He also said the central office was working diligently to let employees know as soon as possible where they will be working and if they still have a position to work in.
“It takes a long time to do this and it will be done as soon as possible,” he said. “We will start with the paraprofessionals, and shortly after that we will get to our custodians and other staff such as bus drivers and secretaries and lunchroom workers.
“We will be giving these assignments just as soon as we can,” Williams continued. “I know everyone out there is anticipating where they will be. We wish we could have had this for you several weeks ago, but again it takes a lot of time to do this and is still contingent on the judge.”