Oct 19, 2009 2:30 PM by sleonard
As Louisiana faces a potential budget deficit of $2 billion, leaders at the Louisiana Department o f Education (LDOE) say they are working to identify potential reductions in the agency's budget - not only for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, but as they begin the process of planning for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
Over the last two and a half years, the Department has eliminated more than 180 agency and Special School District positions, including almost 50 layoffs. And this week, State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek committed to the identification and elimination of at least 50 additional personnel over the next six months - through a combination of a voluntary retirement program and layoffs.
"Over the last two and a half years, we've reorganized the Department to more efficiently and effectively support the needs of districts, schools and most importantly, our students," Pastorek said. "We have made a deliberative and thoughtful attempt to allocate or reassign resources, human and otherwise, to those initiatives and activities that are proven to have the greatest impact on raising student achievement - with a strong emphasis on transforming from an agency centered on compliance to a Department centered on support. And in connection with these changes, we will continue to eliminate and reduce extraneous expenditures that have little or no impact on the educational needs and priorities of Louisiana."
This week, in order to meet the Division of Administration's (DOA) November 5th deadline to outline 2010-2011 budget needs, the agency sought and received preliminary approval from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to begin those discussions with DOA. At the BESE meeting this week, the Department also presented the Board with ideas for new and expanded programs, totaling about $50 million. Department leaders say over the next several months, they will collaborate with BESE members and other stakeholders to develop and publish a comprehensive and itemized budget.
"It is necessary for us to ask the Division for placeholders for our programs and to submit those items that are new requests," Pastorek said. "However, our aim is not to go to the Administration or to BESE and ask them to fund our current allocations plus an additional $50 million. We intend to identify and recommend significant cost savings in other areas prior to proceeding with a formal recommendation to the Board. And we are committed to providing ample time and opportunities for policy makers and others to provide input as we move through the budgeting process."
The agency's 2009-2010 Budget is $145 million. Currently, 575 full time employees work directly for LDOE.
"We are challenging ourselves to do more with less," Pastorek continued. "At the same time, Louisiana cannot compromise the forward progress we've made, and we must remain committed to vigorously improving educational outcomes for our students."
As an example, Pastorek pointed to recent legislation that accelerated the state's goal to achieve an 80 percent graduation rate, from 2016 to 2014.
"The 80 percent goal will place Louisiana's graduation rate beyond the national average of 74.7 percent and substantially higher than our current rate of 66.6 percent. The timeline represents the graduation success of students who are currently enrolled in 8th grade," explained Pastorek. "To accomplish that objective, the Department is working very closely with local districts and schools, and that kind of intense, grass roots approach is a significant departure from how our agency has operated in the past. We are maneuvering in an attempt to be as efficient and effective as necessary, but government restrictions around personnel, procurement and other activities -- can impede our ability to act as quickly as we would like. My hope is that through the 2010-2011 budgeting cycle, and through our work with the Streamlining Commission, we can identify savings and solutions to serve the best interests of our students and our constituents."
Established this past legislative session and an initiative of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the Streamlining Commission has been tasked with reducing the size and cost of state government and improving services and efficiency. The Commission is analyzing each state agency, including LDOE, with an eye toward eliminating, downsizing or consolidating some agencies and out-sourcing the work of some to the private sector.