LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 6-2 Wednesday to direct staff to immediately implement the 2014-15 budget that it adopted on Sept. 15 but allowed any staffing cuts to be deferred until Dec. 31.
While the board adopted a 2014-15 budget two months ago, then-superintendent Pat Cooper refused to implement it, citing concerns that the board didn’t follow state laws in the budget’s adoption and preparation. He also said the board’s included cuts would negatively impact school operations.
The district has operated at 50 percent of last year’s budget since July 1, so no staffing cuts or other changes adopted by the board have been in effect yet.
It’s unclear how many positions may be impacted by the board’s decision due to changing factors in the new school year such as retirements, resignations and a boost in student enrollment. However, the cuts are expected to tally more than 70 based on job categories discussed Wednesday.
Voting for the immediate implementation of the budget and related amendments were Mark Babineaux, Melinda Mangham, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion. Voting against were Shelton Cobb and Kermit Bouillion. Board member Greg Awbrey had to leave the meeting before the vote.
The school system, at Cooper’s direction, had continued operating at 50 percent of last year’s budget even after the board adopted a 2014-15 budget that cut funding for certain positions and services.
As a result, about $1.6 million in district operations expenses and about $3.2 million in staffing expenses were made that were not included in the adopted 2014-15 budget, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said after the board meeting.
After the board’s vote, board President Beasley told the board he’d work to identify funding sources to ensure that employees don’t lose their jobs mid-year.
“I think those budget cuts could be made next year and let employees know that their jobs are to be gone with about a four-month window … I think that’s a better way to treat employees instead of giving them a two-week notice and telling them to go home,” Beasley said.
Prior to the board’s meeting, it met in a workshop to consider interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune’s request that the board increase its spending for 2014-15 by $8.5 million to restore cuts it made in the budget to protect jobs and other services.
The budget revision issues were on the agenda for the regular meeting as an introduction item and the board decided to move the issue to its action agenda.
During the meeting, board members discussed pushing back the budget implementation to Dec. 1, but changed direction based on concerns from another board member and the board’s attorney, Bob Hammonds.
The use of last year’s budget should have ended on Sept. 15 when the board adopted its new budget, Hammonds told the board.
Staff will still have an option to request budget revisions or restorations and the board discussed holding a special board meeting to make decisions on budget revisions.
During the workshop, Guidry told the board he had hoped that they’d expedite a decision on the budget revision requests during Wednesday’s meeting.
“When you’re looking at this kind of deficit, I’m not going to approve that,” board member Rae Trahan said during the workshop. “I understand these cuts are felt extremely deep in cost centers, but it is what it is.”
Trahan said the board has already dipped into its rainy-day or reserve fund by about $7 million.
“I’m not going to give approval for you to do more than that,” Trahan said.
After about two hours of discussion, the board ended the workshop to begin its regular meeting and discussed calling a special meeting in the near future to continue the budget talks.
Trahan criticized staff for not following the board’s directives related to staffing and placing the board in a position to make difficult choices about people’s jobs mid-year.
“The budget is being busted based on administrative decisions. It’s a horrible thing,” Trahan said.
Beasley told Trahan, “I think clearly we know who caused this situation. The board gave directions and they were not followed.”
LeJeune had wanted to restore $2.5 million to continue employing 20.5 special education teachers and 38 special education “paraeducator” positions.
Guidry noted that “these folks were already in the classrooms” when the board adopted a budget in mid-September.
Other spending LeJeune had wanted to see restored was nearly $900,000 for nine assistant principal positions; $357,500 for four counselor jobs; $1.8 million for regular education staffing appeals; $357,500 for three staff positions at N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy; $390,000 for four dean of student positions; and $1.9 million for the restoration of other board-approved cuts.
LeJeune’s appeal tracked similar requests that Cooper had made prior to his dismissal, which the board had rejected.
“As I went through the budget with staff I began to see quite a bit of cuts or loss of funding in areas that I thought either impacted directly in the classroom or on services that directly impact the classroom,” LeJeune told the board at Wednesday’s workshop.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.