LIVINGSTON - The school system is still finding - and following through on - ways to save money after the Great Flood of 2016, which still affects the parish's public schools.
According to Bruce Chaffin, Human Resources Director for Livingston Parish Public Schools, both individual school administrations as well as the central office were tasked with finding ways to save money after the flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had switched into the business of reimbursement, not paying for disaster recovery and repair up front.
So the school system was having to come out of pocket for every cleaning job, building repair, and equipment replacement in the wake of the disaster before being receiving payment from FEMA, based on receipts.
Money was tight, and Chaffin remembers receiving tough news during an already tough time.
"We were told that if we could not save some money in the budget, we would have to cut some positions," Chaffin explained in an e-mail to the News.
"We did not want to do that."
According to Chaffin, cutting personnel would have been the quickest way to achieve savings but would create a negative effect on students and the learning environment. It was going to be the last-ditch solution, central office leadership decided.
Each department was tasked with finding 'creative' ways to save money for the system. That led the human resources department to two ideas -
- Restructure the pay schedule for substitute teachers
- Create an incentive program, rewarding the school with the best teacher attendance in any given year
According to Chaffin, teacher attendance for the system is well above national average. However, Livingston Parish Public Schools was spending $150,000 per month on day-to-day substitutes.
"If we as an HR department weren't seeing this trend, our employees were most likely not aware of the issue, either," Chaffin said.
Chaffin then approached technology director Carlos Williams about devising a tracking system for the schools which would record daily attendance, submitted by individual administrations. Williams also provided the reward - a portable computer cart for the winning school.
The system informed the principals before the 2017-2018 school year that they would be rolling out the program and to alert their respective teachers. Chaffin and his department weren't entirely sure what kind of benefit they'd see from the incentives, but the first month showed some gains - $35,000 in substitute pay savings.
By the end of the first semester, that number grew to $200,000 in savings.
The end of the first year? The school system saved $772,000 in substitute pay.
"Let me say it is not just the dollar savings that make this worthwhile," Chaffin explained. "The students seeing the same faces and receiving consistent instruction on a daily basis has allowed made a difference in the classroom."
That savings had immediate effect on the budget, dropping projected teacher and substitute salaries from $3,175,000 to $2,403,500. While the savings was just $115,000 the next year, the budget dropped again by that amount - increasing total savings, per year, to $887,000.
Chaffin says attendance, which was already above national average, is now in the 94-95% range, and is hoping it will increase even more this year so that the program can cross the $1,000,000 in savings mark.
"Why is that important? That real money-saving has allowed us to keep our staffs intact as we are recovering from the financial burden from the flood of 2016," Chaffin explained.
"We have now expanded our program to both semesters for this year," Chaffin said. "The school with the highest attendance rate at the end of both semesters will receive a computer lab."