LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School System realized a $6.5 million surplus in the fiscal year that ended June 30 — offering another option to help offset a more than $20 million shortfall that also could end the budget battles, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Friday.
Cooper met with the School Board’s three-member executive committee Friday to present information about the money available in the board’s rainy day fund. All three committee members — board President Hunter Beasley, Vice President Tommy Angelle and past President Shelton Cobb — attended the meeting.
The full board will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday for a public hearing on the proposed 2014-15 budget, followed by a 4:30 p.m. meeting for its final adoption.
This year’s budget review of the $268 million general fund began in May with a $23.5 million shortfall. The board cut about $9 million in expenses. However, the budget Cooper has now made available for public inspection and for final adoption restores the funding the board had cut.
The current proposed budget also counts on a staff proposal to use $6.3 million in projected sales tax revenue increases to help offset the shortfall even though some board members had an issue with using projected funds to help balance the budget.
Cooper is asking the board to consider using the excess $6.5 million in the rainy day fund instead of counting on $6.3 million in projected tax collection increases.
Cooper told the committee he is presenting the information as a “good way to prevent any more budget battles. We wouldn’t have to go into any cuts or anything. We’d have it taken care of.”
He said some board members had issues using projected sales tax and property tax projections and dipping into the rainy day fund. Board policy requires that the general fund’s rainy day or reserve account maintain at least three months of operating expenses. There’s a total of nearly $73.6 million in the rainy day fund and, based on $268.3 million in general fund expenses, the board must set aside nearly $67.1 million as a three-month reserve. That leaves the $6.5 million as excess.
“I thought it was worth our while to look at it,” Cooper said. “It would avoid issues if we didn’t have to do any more cutting.”
Beasley said using the excess funds is a viable solution to balance the budget, though he’s worried about what the next year will bring if sales tax revenues don’t continue to increase.
“We may have to cut next year,” Beasley said.
Angelle said he’s in favor of using the $6.5 million in excess to offset part of the shortfall but also agreed with Beasley that the board needs to be careful and not create a situation that will lead to major cuts or a deep dip into the reserve.
Cobb said the real issue is that the school system is underfunded. School Board elections are upcoming on Nov. 4. Cobb said those elected should go to the public with a tax.
“We don’t have a problem with revenue,” he said. “We have a problem with support of taxpayers in Lafayette.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.