New report highlights low pay, retirement concerns and tech challenges for Livingston Schools

LIVINGSTON — Nearly a year has passed since a significant setback hit teachers and staff within Livingston Parish Public Schools when voters rejected a proposed one-cent sales tax aimed at securing raises for all district employees.

Several factors are believed to have contributed to the tax’s failure, with a primary concern being the perceived lack of financial transparency within the district. Many voters, and even some school board members, turned the issue into a political debate, placing blame on Superintendent Joe Murphy. They argued that there was sufficient funding within the budget to grant teachers a pay raise without resorting to a tax.

In the aftermath of this pivotal election, district leaders have actively worked to address concerns by providing more clarity on the financial challenges they face. LPPS took a proactive step by commissioning a compensation analysis report from the third-party consulting group LEAN Frog Consulting based in Alabama. According to district insiders, the report illustrates the ongoing budgetary constraints they contend with on a daily basis.

And as one longtime educator posted on Facebook, “It turns out that LPPS did not in fact have a hidden treasure chest buried in the backyard with million of dollars on it.”

District pay gaps

The report reveals that teacher pay within LPPS ranks either as the lowest or second lowest in the region, an argument made during the debate over the one-cent sales tax in 2023. East Baton Rouge Parish is the only district paying less than Livingston Schools in certain pay steps, according to the report.

In addition to lower base pay, Livingston teachers also experience fewer pay increases compared to their counterparts in neighboring districts, with some districts offering double the eligible pay increases.

Read the full report

The report indicates that various positions, including teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, maintenance workers, technology coordinators, and special education directors, fall below the peer average at all steps and degree levels. They recommend raising starting teacher salaries by 3.5% to close the gap with other districts.

Principals in the district face a pay gap of at least 10% below peer averages, and the superintendent’s total compensation is 33% lower than that of other districts in the area.

Challenges for Livingston Schools

While the report highlights pay disparities, it also underscores a looming challenge for the district: upcoming retirements. Over a quarter of custodial and technology staff, along with district leaders and principals, are eligible for retirement within the next year. Across the district, 16% of staff, totaling more than 600 positions, are eligible to retire within two years. Classroom teachers make up the largest number of positions eligible (239), accounting for 13% of all teaching staff, while leadership positions (directors, supervisors, and coordinators) represent 43% of eligible positions.

The report identifies another obstacle – Louisiana Department of Education data indicates that Livingston Schools had $15,126 in revenues per student for the 2021-2022 school year, the second lowest among size-based peers and the third lowest among top-performing peers. The district is also spending less per student, with expenditures of $14,443.07, ranking as the second lowest among top-performing peers.

This financial constraint extends to technology investment, where the district spent $96.30 per student in the 2022-2023 school year, significantly below the regional and national averages of $309.35 and $438.00, respectively. The report further notes the district’s underdeveloped technological infrastructure.

“Data reflects that, unlike several peer school systems, LPPS has sound fiscal stewardship practices and is ‘living within its means,’ meaning the school system’s expenditures do not exceed revenues,” the report noted.

Moving forward

To address challenges, the report suggests the district implement a mentorship program, external recruitment strategy, and flexible retirement options. Opportunities for cost savings include reducing overtime pay, improving the Workers’ Compensation Program, and reviewing transportation efficiency. These changes, along with staff reduction through natural attrition, could potentially save the district over a million dollars.

“These findings represent the efforts of LEAN Frog Business Solutions, INC who have performed similar studies in over one hundred and forty school systems throughout Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee,” Murphy said in a statement released to UWK. “I would like to thank our board for their vision and commitment to always keeping our students and organization, at the forefront of every decision.”

Livingston Parish Schools, the third-largest in the Baton Rouge region, serves nearly 27,000 students across 44 schools. It trails East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, educating 41,000 students and St. Tammany Parish Schools with 37,000 students but has more than Ascension Parish Schools with nearly 24,000. Despite financial challenges, the district maintains the second-highest graduation rate in the region, tied with Ascension Parish and surpassed only by Central Community Schools.

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