Minden Press-Herald

Thursday
Oct 02nd

No Real Answers

Madden hosts town hall-style meeting

A "town hall-style" meeting sponsored by John Madden in Springhill Thursday was an event with plenty of opinions, ideas and perspectives but seemingly no real answers.

Armed with facts and figures from the "Peabody Report," a six-month $565,000 comprehensive study, paid for by Madden Contracting, the main concern Madden seemed to express was that while expenses continue to rise, student test scores have dropped, student numbers continue to fall and therefore state funding.

According to data, Webster Parish lost 318 students this year and with them $5,508 the state pays per pupil.

When first addressing the approximately 75 teachers, parents, administrators and public body members in attendance, Madden opened the discussion by saying if any factual mistakes are discovered in the study he will openly apologize.

Madden, who said he has read the "Peabody Report" four times from beginning to end, now wants to understand its findings and help the public do the same by having open discussions like the one Thursday.

"Everybody knows we are in financial trouble and our district performance score is not where it needs to be," he said, before he began to share the findings he found most important.

"According to data, there is an 8.8 percent gap between the spending and the revenue taken in. That's kind of an average over the last several years and that's a killer," Madden said. "That's why they keep dipping into the sack and the sack is about empty."

While enrollment declined between the years 2006 and 2010 the total number of district employees increased by 2.1 percent.

Enrollment decreased by 6.8 percent while teachers' aides increased 3.8 percent, the total number of aides 11.8 percent, district administrators stayed flat and the average teacher salary went up 27.4 percent.

"I am not here to bash teachers," Madden said. "I don't have a bit of problem with what the teachers make in Webster Parish. I'm not here to talk about cutting teacher salary. I don't advocate cutting teachers' salary. I do have a problem with this defined benefit versus defined contribution. It is killing the system, period."

Defined benefit plans are plans where the employer guarantees to pay the employee at retirement a fixed monthly income for life.

Defined contribution plans are plans in which the employer agrees to contribute a fixed amount to the employee's pension fund each year in which the employee is employed. The income that the employee receives during retirement depends upon how much money the plan accumulated and how much income that amount can generate.

In comparing this district to Natchitoches Parish that reported 6,416 K-12 students in 2010-2011, WP employed 25 supervisors, managers and administrators in a support capacity, having six placed in Central Office and 19 placed in schools.

Natchitoches with similar size student population employed 16 supervisors, managers and administrators in support capacity with two being in the central office and 14 in schools.

Madden noted that Webster Parish has four high schools while Natchitoches has two high schools.

"This is a killer in our system," Madden said. "Nearly 15 million dollars more than 21 percent of the operating budget was consumed by benefits compared to 16.2 percent of the current expenditures in 2000.

"From 2000-01 to 2010-11 our benefits went up for this parish 6.91 million dollars, which represents 115 percent increase over that time frame in expenditures and benefits while the salary expenditures increased 49.3 percent basically in 10 years."

According to the report data, during 2006-2010 the district administrator staff or cost went up 18.5 percent while teachers were going down.

"I don't know if that is a function of (whether) they got more staff or they bonused themselves," Madden said. "I think they bonused themselves but I don't know."

Those present had listened for about an hour while Madden presented the facts and figures but that comment broke the silence, with Secondary Supervisor Morris Busby being the first to speak.

"I had promised my wife I wouldn't say anything but I am about to break that promise," he said. "We did not get bonuses, Busby said, as he explained the time period in question was when district supervisors were given an incremental bump up only after the parish's principals went from 10-month contracts to 12-month contracts.

"Subsequently if I had remained as principal at Minden High I would have actually been making more than I would have as a supervisor," he said.

When Busby finished his explanation Madden continued the conversation by asking him to clarify.

"So," he said, "help me with this Mr. Busby. They went from 10 to 12 on the principals and then they raised ya'll's to keep that increment up?"

"To keep that spread there where it was," Busby responded.

"Ya'll heard it from the horse's mouth. What they are doing is they are bringing everybody up," Madden said, and then he explained that paying the teachers the "sixth highest pay in the state" the spread must be maintained from teacher, to principal and then to administration to keep the scale even.

"It makes it tough to run this district when you have that going on," he said.

While pointing out the last three year's rise in expenses Madden continued his train of thought.

"That's your last three years and this thing was absolutely, positively catering, the economy and everything else and they knew it," he said. "We were losing money - we were deficit spending and they were killing ya'll right there. (They were saying) Less teachers, less teachers, less teachers and more pay, more pay, more pay, right there ... fact."

Next on the agenda for items that cost and may be the problem was teachers with tenure.

"There is absolutely going to be some young good school teachers lose their jobs... that's the only ones you can get ... can't get the tenured ones," Madden said.

"I would think," he continued, "but I may be wrong that most of the good school teachers should absolutely be against tenure."

"If you could get rid of tenure – get rid of your bottom 10 percent teachers and place them with 10 percent average teachers then we would be higher than Finland the most educated country in world."

When the discussion turned to Governor Bobby Jindal's like for charter schools, Madden asked Busby his opinion.

"Mr. Busby, what's your take on it – you've been in this thing longer than we have," Madden said.

First appearances to a parent Busby said might seem good but, "where the rubber is really going to get rough on the road is when it's your child that's told, 'no you can't come back. You've got to go back over there.'"

When that happens, Busby continued, a parent's comment is going to be, "'but I don't want to take my kid back over there that's where all of the bad children are. I want my children here.'"

Peggy Lacobee was one of the next in the audience to voice a concern.

"I have been in this parish 18 years and if you looked at a new teacher coming in and what I make as an 18-year teacher, the difference between those two is very little," Lacobee said.

Madden backed her up with, "it's criminal and me and you are on the same page.

"You get merit pay in here," he continued, "and get rid of them bad teachers and that thing ought to even out."

According to Charmaine McEachern, it's all about stopping the negative talk and working together like her community was able to do during consolidation.

"We all made it through consolidation up here in north Webster Parish last year without anyone getting hurt," she said. "As a community, we need to stand by our teachers first."

Madden piped in, "I say stand by your 'good' teachers."

"The politics need to be put aside and the dismissive words being said about our teachers so we can move forward," continued McEachern, "and the only way we can move forward is all together."

Madden agreed and continued McEachern's cry by saying, "we have got to get out there in this community and pull together and demand better from teachers, administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, our fellow man and parents."

The Minden "town hall" meeting will be February 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Minden Civic Center.

 

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