The Opelousas Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to defer action on a request by South Louisiana Community College for $20,000 to help expand the school’s registered nursing program to the T.H. Harris Vocational and Technical School campus.

The request for the funds, which would be paid over a two-year period, will be presented to a budget committee before the matter comes back for consideration by the entire board, possibly next month.

SLCC director Natalie Harder provided the board with a written estimate that indicates the full, first-year cost of creating the RN program at the T.H Harris campus in Opelousas beginning in January would be about $500,000.

“That’s what it will cost to get if off the ground,” Harder said. “We want to start accepting RN students in January and open it up. You have enough talented LPNs’ in order to do that.”

Harder told the board that T.H. Harris already has a program for students who want to become licensed practical nurses, but 98 percent of the LPN graduates want to become RNs’.

She said it is financially necessary to ask local governmental entities to help with startup costs for a program at T.H. Harris because of the high costs of training registered nurses and state cuts to SLCC’s operating budget.

Harder said she plans to ask other parish governmental bodies for similar funding assistance. Harder said she plans to make a similar presentation for funding next week to the St. Landry Parish Council and the St. Landry Economic Development District for financial help.

About $250,000 will be needed from St. Landry to help with the beginning expenses of the T.H. Harris program, Harder said.

She said Opelousas General Hospital has also made a commitment in allowing T.H. Harris RN students to do clinical work at the facility.

Harder said a company she did not identify has pledged other financial help.

The first-year anticipated costs include $162,000 in salaries for two full-time faculty members, another $50,000 for salary and benefits for an administrative assistant nursing director, $180,000 in building renovations, another $12,000 for facilities and maintenance and $10,000 more for administrative costs, according to information provided to the board.

Harder emphasized that the parish, which she said has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, would eventually benefit economically by graduating RN candidates, who she estimated will earn about $57,000 annually.

That salary is about $24,000 more annually than the average income of a St. Landry Parish household, according to figures Harder provided to the board.

She estimated the T.H. Harris program would graduate about 20 RN students each year.

Mayor Reggie Tatum said many LPN students at T.H Harris would like to go to SLCC in Lafayette or LSU-Eunice for RN classes but find that option financially prohibitive.

Alderman Julius Alsandor said the board needs to consider the estimated $1.1 million in salaries RN graduates would receive when deciding whether to help fund the program.

The board was told in an annual audit presented last month that the city has a $2 million surplus to help with operating expenses, said Alderman Tyrone Glover.