Recovery & Innovation After Disaster: Livingston Parish’s Story
Originally published in February 2018, this blog post is still relevant in the face of a pandemic.
COVID-19 has produced unique challenges, but one impossible task remains the same: cut back on spending with minimal impact on instruction.
In August 2016, the town of Livingston was hit with severe flooding. Within 24 hours, the district received 33 inches of rain, leading to floods ranging from two inches to nine feet. Repairing the damage to the 17 flooded schools was estimated to cost up to $350 million, 90 percent of which would be covered by FEMA. However, Livingston Parish Public Schools was still responsible for funding for the remaining ten percent — a difficult mandate for a district with an annual budget of about $250 million.
With 90 percent of the district’s budget going to salaries and benefits, district leadership knew they had to come up with an innovative way to save money. Because many families, students and employees moved away from the area after the flooding, they were able to reduce their teaching workforce without changing their student-teacher ratio. But the district still needed to find other ways to save on salaries without impacting instruction.
Bruce Chaffin, Supervisor of Human Resources, knew he had to think outside of the box. While researching potential areas to save money, he found that the district was spending a significant amount of money on substitute teachers — about $220,000 a month. He said he was “blown away” by that figure, and as a former principal, he knew that the district’s principals weren’t aware just how much they were spending on substitutes.
“I can absolutely show every school exactly how many days were missed and how much it cost us at every school, every site, each month. That is data that we have never shared with our employees and our schools before.” – Bruce Chaffin
Incentivizing Better Attendance
So, he worked with the district’s IT director to come up with a tantalizing reward for the school with the highest employee attendance rate at the end of the year: a mobile computer lab with thirty devices on it. At the first principals’ meeting, Bruce shared how much the district was spending on substitutes and introduced a competition between schools. The school with the highest employee attendance rate at the end of the year would win the computer lab. The principals were extremely excited about the potential to get the $20,000 lab for free, and immediately began working on improving attendance at the school level.
Tracking and Reporting on Attendance
The most crucial part of making the strategy work revolved around tracking attendance rates at each of the 44 sites in the district. Frontline’s absence management system gives Bruce the reporting capabilities he needs to access each school’s attendance data, so he can keep a running tally to share with school leaders every month.
“I’m able to go in the report section and run a report each month. It takes me about 30 minutes to do 44 sites and come up with the percentages for the schools.” – Bruce Chaffin
The data has opened employees’ eyes to how much the district was spending on substitutes. Bruce found that within the first semester, Livingston Parish has already saved a significant amount of money.
Saved $80,000 on substitute wages in the first 39 days of school alone
Saved over $100,000 in the first 60 days compared to 2015
Saved $135,751 in the first 60 days compared to 2014
* No 2016 comparison, as the district lost a month of school due to flooding.
“When I say that compared to 2015, we’ve saved over $100,000, that’s not a guesstimate. That is hard money. That is actual, physical money that is in our general fund, that if we hadn’t had done this would not be in our general fund today… This is hard savings that is going to go back into our schools in the form of computers, in the form of books, in the form of initiatives that our principals want to start…. In the first 60 days of school, we’ve got an extra $100,000 to spend on our kids. That’s huge. That’s phenomenal.” – Bruce Chaffin
The success of Bruce’s data-driven absence management strategy has reinforced the importance of data in Livingston Parish. Bruce says that when he visits schools, teachers and employees ask him what their attendance rate was for the month. It’s become a regular conversation, and has helped everyone see where they can make changes to ensure that the district’s funds go where they are most needed.
With strong community and staff engagement, bolstered by objective data, they have cut costs significantly and support student learning through higher attendance rates. Because of the higher attendance rates, the district has saved over $100,000 in the first 60 days of school alone — a strong sign that the rest of the year will bring even greater savings.
“I never anticipated that kind of savings. But, as a testament to our employees and our school leadership, no one has ever shared that specific data with our school people. And as a testament to our schools, they’re like, ‘Wait a minute. If we can save this kind of money, maybe it can help us rebuild our schools and get our kids back to our campuses faster. Or maybe we can do things for our employees down the road because we’re sixteen months into this flood and we still have people that are not in their houses.’ – Bruce Chaffin
In addition, keeping teachers in the classroom as much as possible is extremely beneficial to the district’s students. Their data has shown that when teachers are in the classroom, student performance and scores improve.
“We’ve got one particular high school that is the #4 ranked public school in the state of Louisiana. Their attendance rate for their staff for the first 60 days of school was almost 96%. That’s the highest of our high schools. Don’t you find that interesting that they’re the highest scoring high school in our Parish, and they also have the highest attendance rate among their staff?” – Bruce Chaffin
There’s no doubt that the combination of the district’s thoughtful strategies, dedicated educators and outstanding community support will allow Livingston Parish to overcome the setbacks they have experienced and prepare their students for success.
“Thank goodness we’ve got Absence Management, because that data is immediately at my fingertips.” – Bruce Chaffin
Want to see how your absence management strategies are making an impact? Frontline Absence & Time is K-12’s favorite employee attendance management system.
Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.