Last night, the Webster Parish School Board joined for a class with Attorney Jon Guice, to learn how laws, specifically Act 1, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal will affect the Webster school district.
Guice has presented the information to approximately 15 other school boards and says one thing is consistent with every meeting.
"The board members are seriously concerned with how this law is going to affect education," Guice said. "I've found that most are not necessarily objecting reform – everyone agrees that changes need to be made and everyone wants increased test scores. However, they feel as though this law imposes unrealistic obligations on them, particularly when the state is not funding education."
According to Act 1, superintendents will now hire all certified personnel (teachers). Even applicants that the principal wants to hire will now have to be approved by the superintendent.
When it comes to termination, the superintendents are responsible for firing teachers. The board has the right to fire classified employees (such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and para-professionals) but may write policy that makes firing of classified employees a responsibility of the superintendent. The board now sets the salary schedule and writes Reduction In Force (RIF) policy, while the superintendent implements those policies.
However, federal court orders supersede the state law, which means the board is still required to approve personnel hired and terminated to those positions mentioned in the federal court order, including supervisors, principals and head coaches. All other positions fall under state law.
"The fact that we have a court order plays a large part in how the new state legislation will affect us," WPSB Superintendent Steve Dozier said. "I think the board needed the opportunity to hear exactly how the law will affect us, ask specific questions and receive answers from our attorney. "
Guice said the federal court order must be fulfilled first, leaving anything the court order does not specify to be handled by state legislation.
Tenure and RIF policies are not covered in the Federal court order, leaving those topics to fall under state law and board policy.
According to the new law, the RIF policy must be redrawn by the board, following guidelines set forth in the new state law. Tenure guidelines have been rewritten by the state and must be adhered to by the board.
Guice covered topics the new law affects including superintendent and board responsibilities, super contracts, the hiring and firing of both professional and classified personnel, merit pay and tenure.
Guice also told the board that legislation now demands the board's agendas be placed on their website 24 hours before a board meeting and should be specific when describing agenda items.
Charles Strong and other board members were able to ask questions and voice concerns during the class.
"I am concerned that this legislation complicates the jobs of our public school teachers and administrators, and that inevitably enables the consideration for other alternatives," Strong said. "At some point we need to ask ourselves, as a state, if we really support public education. "
"There are some good concepts in the legislation," Guice said. "I think promoting effectiveness and retaining educators based on performance is a noble idea, but if we don't have the money to reward that, I don't know what we can do."
Board president Johnnye Kennon felt the class was very productive.
"It is good for the entire board to be here, ask questions and obtain an understanding of the law, from an attorney," she said. "There are so many variables that we were unsure about, especially with the court order. Having our attorney come and explain this to us as a whole was very beneficial, because the legislation, as it has been enacted, is very confusing."
For more information on this legislation contact a state representative or senator or read Act 1 at www.legis.state.la.us.
(Editors Note: Look for reports explaining the new tenure and bullying laws in future issues of the Minden Press-Herald.)