Oct 18, 2012 10:49 PM by Maddie Garrett
St. Martin Parish Schools Superintendent Richard Lavergne is fighting back after the Louisiana Department of Education publicly called out his school system for not following the law.
The law is part of the education reforms pushed through by Governor Bobby Jindal earlier this year and it takes away seniority protection for teachers when a district is forced to layoff some of its workforce during a budget crunch. Instead, merit should be used as the primary criteria for layoffs.
State Superintendent John White said St. Martin, Vermilion, St. Tammany and St. Bernard parishes are not following this new rule. But the superintendents in St. Martin and Vermilion parishes aren't taking these accusations lying down.
"Our name has been put down, I think wrongfully, because of the failure of the department," said Lavergne.
Lavergne said this summer they changed their Reduction in Force (RIF) plan to meet the new state standards. Months later, an education department employee told Lavergne his policy was wrong and that they needed change it. Lavergne said he didn't know which part of his RIF plan was in violation so he arranged a meeting with the Dept. of Education employee.
"We had agreed that he, myself and my board attorney would meet to show how we violated the law. And he agreed to that and I sent the email out to him on September 13th," said Lavergne.
But that meeting never happened. It wasn't until Wednesday that Lavergne received another email from State Superintendent John White alerting him that his policy was in violation. That was one day prior to White's public release accusing the school systems of breaking the laws.
"They make it appear that we did something wrong when we were willing to work with the State department and they failed to come up and do what they said they would do," Lavergne fired back.
Lavergne explained that his school system's RIF policy is clear and he believes falls within the new laws. The primary criteria for layoffs are effectiveness, performance and demand. Secondary criteria consists of certification, tenure and then seniority. Vermilion Parish Superintendent Randy Schexneyder said his system has an almost identical RIF plan, and he too feels it meets the State's standards because seniority is not a primary criteria for layoffs.
"What if we have situations where everything is equal, what do I use then? I do not want to flip a coin and determine if somebody's livelihood is based upon the flip of a coin," explained Lavergne. "And so that's why we put in some back up to use for just in case."
Lavergne said he cannot go to the School Board and ask to change the policy without knowing what is wrong with it first. He is set to meet with the Dept. of Education employee on October 24th to go over his policy. In the mean time, Lavergne feels his schools are being unfairly blacklisted.
Superintendent White did not return our requests for comment Thursday afternoon, however he said in a telephone news conference that morning that the State does not plan to take any action against the parishes it deems in violation of the seniority rule. White did say that he believes the systems are open to possible litigation from teachers laid off based on the seniority of another teacher.