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WDSU Channel 6 Sweeps Month Reporting Questioned

A story that aired on WDSU Channel 6 on Wednesday, July 21 reported  that one board member of the Jefferson Parish Public School System is raising questions about salaries for administrators and the number of employees in the central office following a reduction in force that resulted in 196 teachers being laid off.

There are numerous inaccuracies in the report.

In the text below, the Jefferson Parish Public School System has provided the correct information.

Reporter Text:  Every day in the town of Jean Lafitte, Marcum Olano is on the job.  “Working on oil stuff,” says Olano.  And the reason Olano, a teacher and coach for more than a decade, is working on the water … “Because of the recent cutbacks in Jefferson Parish in the school system.”  Last month, almost 200 teachers were laid off in Jefferson Parish.  Olano got a pink slip.

FACT:  Former employee Marcum Olano, who had 10 years of teaching experience, resigned his position in 2007.  He returned to the district in 2009.  Once a JPPSS employee resigns, their seniority is lost.  Mr. Olano’s seniority consisted of less than one year. 

Reporter Text:  One Jefferson Parish School Board member says improper pay raises are the norm inside the school system and central office spending is “out of control,” even as 200 teachers in the parish were laid off.

FACT:  There is no established definition of central office personnel. 

Reporter Text:  The WDSU I-Team investigated whether the pay raises were appropriate, and why the school superintendent makes more money than any other public leader in the parish.

FACT:  No raises were given this year to assistant superintendents.  The superintendent’s salary can not be compared to other parish leaders.  The superintendent manages the parish’s largest employer with more than 6,000 employees and a budget of over $400 million to serve 45,000 students.

Reporter Text:  The teacher layoffs this spring were part of the school system’s plan to resolve a $30 million shortfall.

FACT:  The $30 million shortfall is the result of unfunded state mandates, cuts in programs, and ordering the school system to pick up the retirement costs for all teachers. 

Reporter Text:  But School Board member Mark Morgan is now questioning if the teachers really had to take the hit.

“As a board member, I want the money in the classroom with the teachers,” Morgan said.

Morgan said Jefferson Parish School Superintendent Diane Roussel should have made cuts in other areas. A school system representative said besides the almost 200 teachers, about 60 staffers at the central office were let go.

Morgan said that number should have been higher.

“The spending on central office staff has gotten out of control,” he said.

FACT:  Dr. Roussel has reduced central office staff from 234 in 2003 to 202 today.

Reporter Text:  Former School Board member and current Parish Councilman Chris Roberts agrees.

“I’ve never known the central office to have the number of employees they have now, and with tough financial times, that’s concerning,” Roberts said.

FACT:  The Jefferson Parish Public School System’s central office has changed since Councilman Roberts served on the board seven years ago.

Reporter Text:  Meladie Munch of the Jefferson Federation Of Teachers is also worried.

“I think it’s an absolute legitimate concern, because over the last few years they have increased the number of people in the central office,” she said.

FACT:  Several central office positions were mandated as part of federal and/or state grant programs.

Reporter Text:  Morgan and other school board members said when Roussel took over in 2004, 199 people worked in the central office and their budget was about $8 million. Now, the central office employs more than 500 people with a budget of $16 million, Morgan said.

FACT:  Dr. Roussel has reduced central office staff from 234 in 2003 to 202 today.

Reporter Text:  “The big picture is that the spending on these salaries has gone up $8 million,” Morgan said. “Eight million dollars pays for a lot of teachers.”

Morgan and at least one other school board member also have questions about the salaries of some of Roussel’s top aides. Based on documents given to the I-Team by board members, all 11 assistant school superintendents made more than $95,000 last year, with Deputy Superintendent Richard Carpenter topping out at $157,000.  Records obtained by the I-Team also show that Carpenter received a 9 percent pay increase last year, as did the system’s chief financial officer, Raylyn Stevens.   And in 2007, Assistant Superintendent Isaac Joseph received a 12 percent pay raise.   Morgan said all of those raises were improper because employees are only set to get a 3 to 5 percent pay bump each year.

FACT:  As a board member, Mr. Morgan approved all raises during the past 8 years during his tenure.

Reporter Text:  “There is an existing board policy that caps raises and it seems that policy has been violated by the superintendent,” Morgan said.

FACT:  There is no existing board policy that caps raises.

Reporter Text:  But school system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski disagrees.

“The board approved every pay increase from 2006 through today,” Nowakowski said.

“So if they say, ‘We didn’t approve that,’ what do you guys say to that?” WDSU I-Team reporter Travers Mackel asked.

“They did. When you’re talking millions of dollars, all nine members had to approve it,” Nowakowski replied.

FACT:  All nine members of the Jefferson Public School Board approve all raises every year.

Reporter Text:  But Morgan said that was not the case.

“It appears these raises have only been evaluated by the superintendent and signed off on by the board president. Problem is, the board president did that in a vacuum, not knowing what the salaries were previously,” Morgan said.

FACT:  Mr. Morgan was board president in 2008 and approved all raises that year and each year since then as a member from District 1.

Reporter Text:  And based on the documents provided to WDSU, all assistant superintendents were set to receive pay raises again this year. Roussel froze those raises due to tough financial times and layoffs, but documents show pay bumps are on the horizon for everyone next year.

FACT:  The school system can not predict raises for next year due to the possibility of increased loss of sales tax revenue in Jefferson Parish, the impact from the BP oil spill on Jefferson Parish, and potentially another round of budget cuts to education by lawmakers.

Reporter Text:  In 2011-2012, almost every assistant superintendent is set to make more than $120,000 a year.

“It’s an appearance of not spending the money appropriately, and it’s the wrong time to do it,” said Munch, the teachers’ union representative.

FACT:  All teachers receive a step increase every year.

Reporter Text:  And then there’s Roussel’s salary. She’s the highest paid public official in Jefferson Parish, bringing in more than $254,000. That’s more than the parish president, sheriff and entire council.

FACT:  The superintendent earns $252,000.  The superintendent manages Jefferson Parish’s largest employer with more than 6,000 employees and a budget of over $400 million to serve 45,000 students.

Reporter Text: “It’s well earned, what she makes,” Nowakowski said.

Until a permanent facility is built using FEMA money, Roussel leases office space at an upscale office complex on the Westbank.

FACT:  FEMA pays for the office rental, not the superintendent.  FEMA chose the location of the office space because it was more cost-effective than building another temporary administration building.

Reporter Text:  Her office is guarded by a sheriff’s deputy.

FACT:  The sheriff deputy provides security for the system’s Compliance and Human Resources departments.

Reporter Text:  When she was hired in 2003, Roussel made $114,000. Six years later, her salary has grown more than 100 percent.

FACT:  Dr. Roussel received a bonus from the board for successfully passing a teacher pay referendum in the fall of 2003.

Reporter Text:  She got a fairly hefty pay jump right after Hurricane Katrina.

FACT:  Dr. Roussel received a bonus from the board for successfully re-opening schools in less than five weeks.

Reporter Text:  “Yeah, but look at the job she did back then. In five weeks, we re-opened 85 schools. Who else did that? We brought the parish back,” Nowakowski said.

During Roussel’s tenure, Jefferson Parish has gone from 57th to 64th in overall state rankings, out of the 70 school districts in Louisiana.

“The problem is we’ve had these escalating costs, but we haven’t had test score improvement, significant improvement, and our ranking in the state has decreased, so spending has gone up, (and) performance has gone down,” Morgan said.

FACT:  In a Times-Picayune story, dated Tuesday, July 6, 2010, reporter Barri Bronston interviewed James Meza, dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of New Orleans who explained challenges facing urban school system like the Jefferson parish Public School System.

“Jefferson is now considered a high-poverty school district with students (who) have a need for greater services, and that costs money.  They have extreme challenges.  It’s really difficult to use scores as (a measure of) effectiveness of a school system. They can be so misleading,” said James Meza, dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of New Orleans.”

Reporter Text:  Morgan said he plans to introduce a plan for the school system to look into hiring an inspector general. He also believes some type of forensic audit of all the books needs to be done.   Nowakowski, however, questioned many of Morgan’s figures and some were open to interpretation.   Since Roussel has been in the school system for almost 40 years, she will retire with more than 90 percent of her highest salary, meaning when she retires she’ll collect more than $200,000 a year in retirement.

FACT:  Dr. Roussel has been with the system for 36 years.  She entered the state of Louisiana’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) before becoming superintendent and will receive a plan-defined benefit of $80,000 upon leaving the system for retirement.