LAFAYETTE — Rather than take $6.7 million from its rainy day fund to balance next school year’s $258 million budget, the Lafayette Parish School Board decided Tuesday to allow district staff more time to devise a list of cuts to offset the shortfall.
Superintendent Pat Cooper said the proposal to “float” the $6.7 million in daily operational or general fund spending from the district’s reserve fund was necessary to avoid classroom cuts, including instructional strategists.
In lieu of using the rainy day money, staff proposed other options, such as the elimination of teaming instructional models in middle schools (nearly $1.3 million) and annual pay raises ($2.3 million), but board member Tehmi Chassion requested staff cull the budget and submit a list of priorities.
“I’d prefer not to use the fund balance anymore,” Chassion said. “There are a lot of positions that have been added this year and just looking at the number of people who are working who do not have direct contact with kids …”
School Board members debated funding for 37 instructional strategist positions previously paid for with federal Title I money. The district receives about $9 million in Title I funding, designed to help high-poverty schools, but expects a 10 percent reduction in that funding next school year.
Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeaux said instructional strategists assist teachers with lesson plans and the implementation of new state-mandated and more rigorous common core curriculum standards.
District staff proposed paying for the positions with revenues from a 2002 sales tax fund that can be used for certified employee salaries. Board members debated the option, but reached no resolution Tuesday.
A crowd that included a large number of principals collectively gasped when board member Kermit Bouillion asked if it was possible to fund only 18 instructional strategist positions.
Billeaudeaux said now would be the worst time to take that resource away from classroom teachers as the state implements new curriculum standards. “These people are like their lifelines,” she said.
Board member Mark Allen Babineaux said program efficiency should factor into budgeting decisions. He requested information on the cost and effectiveness of plans implemented since 2012, such as N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy, which houses alternative education programs, and health and wellness initiatives.
Cooper told Babineaux such a review would be “unfair” since some programs, such as N.P. Moss Prep, were not fully implemented until November or December. He said the preference is to dip into the reserve account.
“The easiest thing to do in this education business is to cut and our kids are the ones that pay for it,” Cooper said. “I think we need to be more creative and I think we need to ask the people of Lafayette Parish for the help, and I think they’ll give it to us. ... We will prioritize cuts if that’s what you want us to do.”
Tuesday’s budget workshop began at 4 p.m. and ended almost three hours later with only about 20 percent of the planned presentation completed. The board agreed to continue the workshop at 5 p.m. May 21.
The district began its budgeting process with an estimated $12 million shortfall due, for the most part, to increased state mandates and reduced state and federal support. Of the $69.4 million in the district’s reserve fund, about $20.4 million is “unassigned” or not earmarked for other purposes.
“We’re going to be in a tight spot this year, but we’re going to be in a tighter spot next year,” Cooper said, adding that the public’s help will be needed to prevent a “catastrophic” budget situation in the 2014-15 school year.
A citizens committee is reviewing funding strategies now and will make a recommendation to the board by next month.