The hiring of a superintendent for the Livingston Parish school system is a delicate matter, and of vast importance to the area in which it serves.
During a long and arduous process of interviewing five candidates for the position Monday night, several facts and statistics were offered by the candidates during their question-and-answer sessions. Their answers provide a pretty fascinating picture of the school system.
First, the system has between 3,500 and 4,000 employees. While no number was ever completely settled, the fact of the matter is the school system is the largest employer in the parish – and it’s not even close. The next highest would be the sheriff, who’s most recent numbers suggest about 500 employees total.
Second, the school system’s $200 million annual budget is heavily reliant on the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) to the tune of almost 80 percent of monthly expenses. The rest? Well it comes from the third point, the three taxing mechanisms from which the School Board draws – which were passed in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s respectively.
Each tax is on a 10-year renewal.
So, it should come as no surprise that the board decided to come back with no recommendation after a 40-minute executive session. All five candidates had plenty of credentials to run the system and the decision will not be an easy one, but one that has to be made.
The future of Livingston Parish, at present, will depend on that decision.
Livingston Parish public schools is one of the main draws for anyone who chooses to live or move here. Even after the flood, the three main reasons to call Livingston Parish home still apply – safety, good schools, and cheap real estate.
Even despite rising real estate costs, with an average price per square foot rising to the $110-$130 range, that still falls well short of Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes when it comes to property value ($140+ and $160+, respectively), and there’s the safety and school aspect that just sweetens the pot.
All of the candidates understand the game, though, and the responsibility. In one way, shape, or form each hit on the overlying themes that resonate with the school system in funding, technological advancement, teacher retention and training, as well as school safety.
It’s a tall order to manage that many employees, that many moving parts, and especially that much real estate. The school has 44 sites alone, plus the Central Office, which are all worth – together – hundreds of millions of dollars.
As schools move forward into a new age of technology, and money gets tighter at the state level, innovation will be required to keep the schools in high regard and on track. Often the role of superintendent goes unsung, or unwatched, but there’s no doubt that – right now – this hire is one of the most important in the parish.
It will be tough to see current Superintendent Rick Wentzel go, but he has done the job that was necessary during his time at the Central Office – and what a job he was thrown into.
In the months and years after the flood, leading up to several recent unveiling ceremonies of brand-new, state-of-the-art school facilities, Wentzel had to toe lines that would break a lot of folks. The soon-to-be retired superintendent would tell you that it had everything to do with his teachers and support staff buying in, but that buy-in required leadership and vision – which he produced just hours after the Great Flood.
One decision that will hopefully be in the rear-view, now that the unveilings have occurred, was constant public pressure to just “rebuild the schools.” That path was never an option, but Wentzel and his staff did an excellent job of reassuring the public that the schools were on the right course, all while fighting with FEMA.
It saved the schools hundreds of millions of dollars that will come in handy for future projects.
Wentzel did an admirable job with what he was given, and we as parish residents should be thankful for his service.