Friday, February 13, 2009

University of New Orleans may have to layoff employees, cut research, eliminate courses


Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If forced to cut more than $175 million from the next budget, LSU system officials said they would have to lay off at least 1,900 employees, eliminate dozens of courses, shut down research programs and possibly suspend all athletics at the University of New Orleans.

System President John Lombardi said the cuts proposed Wednesday for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could jeopardize accreditation for some campuses, would lower the educational quality for students and would damage the universities' ability to compete nationally.

The cuts might not come, however.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration asked colleges to propose how to reduce spending next year, and the LSU System's top range cut was $175.8 million — on top of $29 million already slashed this year. That would be a 13 percent reduction to the nearly $1.4 billion university system's annual budget.

Under the worst-case scenario, LSU "will no longer be capable of competing among America's significant public university systems, its flagship will lose its place in the competition among American flagship institutions and its campuses and medical enterprises will find themselves dramatically behind the rest of the South," Lombardi wrote in the document.

Proposals include laying off 650 faculty and more than 1,250 support employees at the system's 11 institutions, increasing class sizes, shortening library hours, cutting student services and closing two of the eight academic departments at LSU-Alexandria.

"It's scary, and it's going to have a dramatic impact on the LSU System statewide," said Charles Zewe, a spokesman for the LSU System.

Also proposed: cutting travel and supplies, reducing campus publications and student activities and shutting down agricultural extension and research programs.

University support of the National World War II Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans would be eliminated. Emergency room care and patient services at the LSU-run public hospitals would be reduced, and some outpatient programs would be eliminated.

But none of the cuts are certain.

Jindal's financial advisers sought proposals across state-funded agencies for possible reductions as they cope with an expected $1.2 billion drop in state general fund income. Higher education, one of the largest areas of state discretionary spending, is among the most vulnerable and was assigned one of the deepest cut possibilities.

But Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, the governor's top budget adviser, said the figures were preliminary and don't necessarily reflect what will be suggested when the governor's 2009-10 budget proposal is delivered to lawmakers in mid-March.

"As I have said, these reduction goals are subject to change, and most likely will change ... However, it is necessary for agencies to prepare for what could be their worst-cases scenarios,"

Davis said in a statement Wednesday.

She didn't comment directly on LSU's budget proposal, saying she had yet to receive it.

After Jindal submits his budget recommendations, the Legislature will hammer out the final spending plan for next year.

Lawmakers are considering tapping into the state's "rainy day" fund and other pots of unspent state money to fill gaps next year and are hoping that economic stimulus proposals in Congress will provide budget aid to Louisiana.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Sponsor says public funded school voucher program will grow

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The sponsor of legislation that lets some New Orleans children attend private school at public expense says she's pleased with response to the program and expects it to grow, although the number taking part in its first year is lower than expected and future funding is uncertain.

In its first year, only about 640 of about 1,300 students who applied enrolled in the program. The legislation authorized tuition for 1,500.

State Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said there was little time to promote the program to parents between the time it was approved last summer and the beginning of the current school year. "We passed this legislation and had less than a month to get the rules promulgated and to get it marketed to parents," she said in an interview last week.

The program covers up to $7,138 in private school tuition per student, according to the state Department of Education. Tuition costs vary from school to school, but the average award is approximately $3,856, the department said.

Also, Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue said, some of the private schools had more state-funded applicants than they could accommodate and students declined to attend other eligible schools.

Duplessis, who handled the legislation along with state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said she's confident the program will grow this year as more parents learn how to apply. She also predicted the program will be fully funded despite the state's budget problems. The state budget for the current fiscal year, which runs from July through June, had to be trimmed by $341 million at mid-year and projections are that the state will have $1.2 billion less to work with as it prepares the next fiscal year budget.

Passage of the voucher program was a major legislative goal last year for Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had to overcome fierce opposition from teacher unions and public school administrators who have long fought vouchers, saying tax money is better spent improving public schools. It remains important to Jindal, his spokesman said Friday, although how much he will seek hasn't been determined.

"We're still in the process of reviewing all state expenditures and final decisions will be announced when the governor's budget is presented to the Legislature on March 13," Kyle Plotkin, Jindal's press secretary, said in an e-mailed statement. "The scholarship program is a priority for the governor and it's important that these students have the ability to continue their education."

At Jindal's behest, lawmakers included $10 million in the state budget for the voucher program for the 2008-09 school year.

With the first year's low enrollment, only about $3.7 million of that will likely be spent, according to testimony late last year before a House committee.

Growth was built into the program, however. It was available this year only to New Orleans students from low- and moderate-income families who were entering kindergarten though third grade and who otherwise would be attending failing New Orleans public schools.

Those who received the vouchers this year are to keep getting them through 12th grade. Also, eligibility is to expand each year, grade level by grade level, with new fourth-graders able to join the program this year.

All of that is contingent on money being appropriated for the vouchers.

While the administration hasn't yet said how much it will ask the Legislature to appropriate for the program next year, a major opponent, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, will ask lawmakers to kill it by cutting off its money.

"We were opposed form the beginning and we're going to be consistent in our opposition," LFT president Steve Monaghan said Monday.

While backers of the plan say it provides some lower-income students with a better opportunity for a good education in a city where schools are infamous for low achievement, LFT notes that the state has taken major steps to improve those schools, taking over scores of them. The voucher program essentially puts the state in competition with itself, Monaghan said.

"If you're going to cut off a piece of the population that you're hoping to serve, then you wonder about the soundness of the public policy debate," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.



Louisiana and Mississippi get poor teacher ratings

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A national nonprofit advocacy group has given Mississippi a D-plus and Louisiana a C-minus in recruiting and retaining quality teachers and getting rid of those who are ineffective in the classroom.
The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released its 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. The report finds that laws and regulations in most states discourage promising new teachers from staying in the classroom while doing little to rid schools of inadequate teachers.
The report gives Louisiana a D-plus in identifying effective new teachers, a C in retaining effective new teachers and a C-minus in getting rid of ineffective new teachers.
Mississippi fared even worse, getting a D-plus in identifying effective new teachers, a D in retaining effective new teachers and a D-plus in getting rid of ineffective new teachers.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


DeSoto superintendent gets contract extension

MANSFIELD, La. (AP) — The DeSoto Parish School Board has granted Superintendent Walter Lee another contract extension.
Lee, who is starting his 30th year as leader of the parish public school system, says he's not ready to retire.
On Thursday, Lee received unanimous approval of his request to extend his contract that was set to expire Dec. 31. The extension will keep the 74-year-old at the helm of the district through June 30, 2011.
Lee also represents District 4 on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The district includes Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine, Webster and Winn parishes.
Information from: The Times,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Date: 2/4/2009 5:56 AM
BC-LA--School Takeovers/134
Eds: APNewsNow.
10 apply to take over La. schools
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ten organizations are vying to run charter schools in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, at the public schools recently approved for state takeover.
The state will take control of eight schools in Baton Rouge and two in Shreveport in July because of their poor performance.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek wants to turn them into independently run charter schools. The state education department says 10 groups have applied for the chance to operate the various schools.
Local and national education experts will review the applications. Then, the education department will review those recommendations and submit them to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March for a final decision.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


High school students flock to Tulane

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The effects of Hurricane Katrina — which sent Tulane students scurrying for safety, flooded more than 70 percent of the campus and caused more than $650 million in damages — have not dampened interest in the elite university.
The school says that nearly 40,000 high school seniors have applied to be part of the university's 1,400-member fall 2009 freshman class. That shatters last year's record-breaking number of 34,125 applicants,
The school says that based on the latest figures, Tulane's applications have now more than doubled since Hurricane Katrina.
Tulane President Scott Cowen credits the increased interest to several factors, including a plan enacted after Katrina that made public service a requirement of graduation. Tulane is the only major research university in the country that has public service as part of its core curriculum.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


Rapides school board recommends African American studies classes

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — A committee of the Rapides Parish School Board has recommended that an African-American Studies course be offered as an elective in parish schools.
The full board votes on the issue in two weeks and committee chairman Wilton Barrios Jr. predicted Tuesday that it will pass.
The motion, by board member Janet Dixon, stems from a Louisiana law that calls for all public high schools to offer instruction in black history and historical contributions by all nationalities.
Only two high schools in Rapides — Peabody Magnet High and Alexandria High School — currently offer an African-American studies course, Dixon said.
Dixon said the courses could be offered in other schools quickly and cost effectively through video conferencing. For instance, courses being offered at Peabody could also be offered via video in other high schools.
Dixon said the district's schools are equipped with the technology to offer video conferencing, which, she said, "will afford students at other high schools an opportunity to take that class if they so choose and it will save the board money because we won't have to hire another teacher."