EBR School Board Takes Stand for Discipline

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board rejected key elements of a proposed 2013-2014 school budget, expressing concern that a plan by EBR schools Supt. Bernard Taylor could weaken discipline in the schools.

The substitute motion by board member Jerry Arbour was approved 7-4.  It preserved the position of Dean of Students in local schools and continued the policy of having certified teachers in “time-out” rooms where students with disciplinary problems are assigned.

Arbour’s motion also blocked Taylor’s plan to hire 30 “youth advocates” to work in the schools.

Four Republicans and three Democrats backed Arbour’s substitute, while two Republicans and two Democrats backed Taylor’s approach.

Arbour said the resulting changes in the budget will have little effect on overall spending but will reduce pressure on the general fund and will mandate that qualified professionals oversee discipline.

Arbour said the Dean of Students plays an important role in discipline in the schools, but that Taylor would have abolished the position.  Likewise, Arbour contended that “time-out” rooms are places where study is supposed to occur and that the supervision of youngsters in those classrooms should not be delegated to paraprofessionals.

The budget controversy comes at a time when some board members are expressing concern about Taylor’s growing power under school reform legislation passed last year.  Arbour said, “In 2012, the legislature removed the school board’s power to hire and fire personnel, such as principals.  Since then, we get very little information on who is hired and fired or how much money they make.  That makes it very difficult to evaluate a budget.”

“It’s a bad system.  It puts too much power in the hands of the superintendent.  There are no checks and balances,” he said.

Arbour said most of the principals in the parish have been replaced by Taylor.  “We don’t know them,” he said.

“In eight years on the board, I don’t remember our rejecting a new employee proposed by the superintendent, although occasionally we would ask questions before someone was appointed.  Now we have no input.  Our fellow board member Jill Dyason had to ask that we receive a printout of personnel changes — and that’s the only way we know what has happened after the fact.”

Recent statements by the superintendent indicate dissatisfaction with the school board.  After the board approved Arbour’s substitute motion on the budget, Taylor said the board was making it “impossible” to do his job.

Arbour said his budget changes take pressure off the school board’s general fund, because he is funding the Dean of Students and teachers for “time-out” rooms from the proceeds of Tax Proposition No. 2, which was dedicated by voters to school discipline needs.

Arbour said it is important for the school board to maintain a fund balance equal to at least 15 percent of the system’s budget as recommended by the legislative auditor.  This allows the system to have some money for emergencies.  He said, “After Katrina, we had an influx of 9,000 students, and we were very fortunate to have a fund balance to fall back on.”

Arbour’s substitute for the budget also eliminated raises recommended by Taylor for selected personnel.  Arbour said, “He had raises for personnel in the Finance Department, IT, and Human Resources, including a $10,000 raise for one person.  Since our classroom teachers haven’t had a step increase in four years, that was wrong.”

Meanwhile, Arbour’s substitute motion kept in the budget funding for step increases for teachers for the coming school year.

The vote on Jerry Arbour’s substitute budget for the 2013-2014 school year was as follows:

FOR (7)

Jerry Arbour (R)

Connie Bernard (R)

Jill Dyason (R)

Randy Lamana (R)

Vereta Lee (D)

Dr. Kenyatta Nelson-Smith (D)

Tarvald Smith (D)

AGAINST (4)

Craig Freeman (D)

Barbara Freiberg (R)

David Tatman (R)

Evelyn Ware-Jackson (D)

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