Vermilion Parish School Board joins in lawsuit challenging the state's MFP funding

Vermilion Parish School Board voted to join the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board in a lawsuit challenging the state’s per-pupil school aid formula.
And it’s not a clear-cut issue.
Not every school board is joining in the battle. The Ascension Parish School Board decided not to pursue the matter.
At stake in the lawsuit by the St. John School Board is a potential increase in funding of $327 per Louisiana public student for the 2012-13 school year.
That would translate into an additional $200 million statewide, if the suit goes the School Board’s way.
Last week, the Vermilion Parish School Board, Superientent Jerome Puyau met with school board attorney ‘Woody’ Woodruff about joining the lawsuit.
Behind closed doors, the board agreed to join in the fight.
The Vermilion Parish School Board has been closely monitoring the St. John the Baptist lawsuit which challenges the state’s per-pupil school aid formula,” Puyau said. “This lawsuit alleges that the state’s school funding formula was flawed for three years and districts are owed for three years of funding.”
However, even if the school boards win the suit, it doesn’t mean the local districts will see the money.
The Legislature would have to appropriate the judgment.
The lawsuit grew out of a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that struck down the way the state’s expanded voucher program was financed.
At the same time, the state Supreme Court threw out Louisiana’s 2012-13 school aid plan, called the Minimum Foundation Program, saying it had been approved illegally, in part because it hadn’t been filed in a timely fashion with the Legislature, among other problems.
“Nobody ever paid attention to this second issue,” said Bob Hammonds, a Baton Rouge attorney who serves as general counsel of the Louisiana School Boards Association and represents a number of school boards across the state.
The Minimum Foundation Program combines state and local revenue, under a formula set by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and approved by the legislature, to make sure every student receives at least a “minimum foundation of education.”
In its lawsuit, filed June 28 in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, along with the Louisiana Association of Educators and its local affiliates, allege the 2009 MFP plan was the last one passed properly.

The plaintiffs are seeking a 2.75 percent “growth factor” that’s been included in past Minimum Foundation Programs.
That would translate to per-pupil funding going from $3,855 to $4,182 in the 2012-13 school year, said Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The Minimum Foundation Programs formula has not been properly adopted by the state over the past few years and districts should be compensated for the 2.75% increase, Puyau said. “This increase would help offset the multitude of unfunded (state) mandates that the state requires districts to implement but does not provide the financial support,” Puyau said.
The Vermilion Parish School Board to do what is in the best interest of the students’ and teachers’ in our district,” Puyau said. “By joining this lawsuit, we send a strong message to the state that the 2.75% increase is needed to implement the new educational reform mandates. This increase has not been provided to our district for three consecutive years and during this time we have seen an increase in retirement, health care, and instructional costs.
Defendants in the lawsuit are the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education.
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the department doesn’t comment on pending legal matters.
Nor does BESE, said Kevin Calbert, with the BESE communications department.
Last week, the Louisiana School Boards Association sent a letter to school boards across the state — there are 69, including St. John the Baptist — encouraging them to participate in the lawsuit.
Earlier this month, the Jefferson Parish School Board joined the suit.
“I don’t think there’s a school board in the state that’s not struggling to meet unfunded (state) mandates,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the LSBA.

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