NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana Education Superintendent John White says four school districts risk lawsuits and the disapproval of parents for not complying with a law designed to end seniority-based protections for teachers when layoffs occur.
"Their boards, for whatever reason, have chosen to ignore the legislators' intent," White said Thursday during a telephone news conference.
But officials with those districts - St. Martin, St. Tammany Vermilion and St. Bernard - say their systems comply with the law by giving seniority a low priority or making it, in effect, a tie-breaker when measures such as effectiveness and performance are equal.
The law was part of a package Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed through the Legislature this year.
St. Martin Schools Superintendent Richard Lavergne noted a paragraph in the law that says seniority shall not be a "primary" factor in layoffs.
He said St. Martin places seniority at the bottom of a list of secondary criteria that include certification and tenure, with primary consideration given to teacher effectiveness, performance and a district's need for teachers in a given subject area.
Lavergne said St. Martin officials will meet with Department of Education officials on Oct. 24 to discuss the issue. Then he will go to his board.
"I'll see if they wish to change," Lavergne said. "But first of all, somebody's going to have to explain to us how we're violating the law."
Jack Loup, president of the St. Tammany School Board, said his board, too, has adopted a policy ensuring that seniority is not a primary consideration in layoffs, as did Vermilion's superintendent, Randy Schexnayder, and St. Bernard Superintendent Doris Voitier.
Schexnayder said the Vermilion board adopted a policy in accordance with the law and included it in negotiations with the local teachers union. He added that the system has never been faced with layoffs in the 34 years he's been a part of it. "So, to make so much a big deal about this, it just doesn't make sense," he said.
White, contending the four districts are out of compliance, said the state doesn't plan any action against them, but said fired teachers might sue boards that protect teachers based on seniority. Aside from legal issues, White said there is a moral issue. "The moral question is: Why would we not make the decision to keep a teacher that is highly effective?"
Voitier said she was at a loss to explain White's interpretation of St. Bernard's policy. "Our board feels that the policy is in compliance," she said.