Union Drops Lawsuit Over School Budget

Copyright 2001 Capital City Press
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA.)

August 21, 2001, Tuesday METRO EDITION

SECTION: News; Pg. 9-A

LENGTH: 493 words

HEADLINE: Union drops lawsuit over school budget

BYLINE: CHARLES LUSSIER


BODY:
A service employees union has dropped its 3-week-old lawsuit against the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board because the board has decided to vote again on its 2001-2002 budget.

Service Employees International Union Local 100 hopes the board will reconsider the firing of 90 employees and the elimination of 342 jobs in June.

The lawsuit, filed July 27 in state District Court, said the school system violated the state's Local Government Budget Act when it failed to alert members of the public that they could pick up a copy of the proposed budget prior to the June 20 meeting. The budget was approved at that meeting.

School system lawyers urged the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawyers argued the board had substantially complied with the state budget law through public advertisements about the budget deliberations, newspaper and television stories about the matter and 26 copies of the budget picked up by members of the public.

A court hearing scheduled for Monday was canceled when the union dropped the lawsuit.

School system spokeswoman Meg Casper said the decision to go through the budget process again is a precaution. The School Board still contends it substantially complied with state law, she said.

The first leg of the budget process was completed Monday when the School Board's Ad Hoc Budget Committee recommended the budget be adopted again. The only change is that it now contains money from the $2,060 teacher pay raise the Legislature adopted in June.

The School Board will consider the revised 2001-2002 budget when it meets at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.

The item, however, will be on the board's consent agenda. That means it won't be open for public discussion unless the board handles the budget separate from other items on the consent agenda.

Union state director Ron Neimark, says that by re-advertising the 2001-2002 budget correctly, the board took away the legal basis for the lawsuit.

"When they did decide to post it, they were in compliance with the local budget act," he said.

Neimark said the union will continue to agitate against the 342 job cuts and the school system's contract with ServiceMaster, a private company that oversees the maintenance of school grounds and buildings.

"We continue to insist that ServiceMaster is a waste of the School Board's resources and the School Board is suffering from a lack of service personnel," he said.

The union represents cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers and other support workers.

It has opposed the job cuts, saying they were too narrowly drawn. The union argues the board should have cut positions only "by seniority by broad categories," which would have allowed some who lost their jobs in June to qualify for openings in other parts of the school system.

The union also believes the schools need more custodians than now called for in the contract with ServiceMaster.