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Jun 25, 2014 9:00 PM by Kari Beal

Educators speak out about LPSS' budget shortfall

As the Lafayette Parish School System (LPSS) releases its projected $23 million shortfall and potential elimination of about 300 jobs, educators parish-wide are speaking out.

The Lafayette Parish Association of Educators---LPAE--- joined the Association of Professional Educators of Louisiana" ---APEL --- for a news conference today to address their concerns.

Both teacher unions say the budget is in the red primarily because of the decision to bring charter schools to Lafayette Parish.

"Over half of the $23 million budget shortfall is attributed to the decision by this administration and our BESE member, Holly Boffy, to aggressively pursue for-profit charter schools in our district," an LPAE release reads.

LPSS Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau claims that amount is closer to $8.5 Million. LPAE President Rodolfo Espinoza says his calculations are based on the latest figures he received from the school system.

"The current estimate is $12 million and now that estimate may change because nobody will know the exact number until day one of school," Espinoza said.

The LPAE press release notes that sales tax revenue has grown in Lafayette, adding to the general fund.

"But we can't recognize that growth," Billeaudeau said.

She explained that, although sales tax revenue has increased the LPSS general fund, other areas of spending such as retirement contributions, unfunded mandates as well as state and federal fund loss have offset this revenue growth.

The board is seeking ways to reduce costs and is considering cutting educators and/or managing school systems differently. On Monday, LPSS released a survey aimed at getting feedback from educators on classroom priorities.

"This was an opportunity to give teachers a voice and ask for their opinion," Billeaudeau said.

LPAE members said there were technical issues when teachers tried to access the survey along with other problems.

"There are questions about security. There are questions about whether or not we will get an accurate reflection of what teachers and supporting personnel believe, and so that is a concern," LPAE Vice President Jonathan Cole said.

The LPSS survey included eight multiple-choice questions, but drew criticism from union representatives.

"Pitting employees against each other because of the financial mismanagement of this administration is a gross injustice to the people of Lafayette Parish. We are outraged at the lack of fiscal accountability of the public's tax dollars," Espinoza explained.

LPAE has released its own survey.

"We just want to give teachers the ability to comment and that is what we felt like was absent in the survey by the district," Cole said.

LPSS said, that because surveys actually were due today, they don't have numbers yet on how many educators took the survey.Thus far, LPAE said about 200-300 educators have taken their survey.

During the press conference, LPAE emphasized that they do not believe educators should be cut, nor class sizes made bigger. They suggested there are better alternatives, including digging into the LPSS reserve fund, to address the budget shortfall.

"What we hope is that all district-wide standardized testing and anything that is not mandated by the state should be considered for cuts," Espinoza said.

To view LPSS full budget report click here.

To view LPAE's full press release click here.

The Lafayette Parish School Board will discuss the budget at its next meeting 5:30 p.m.Thursday night.

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