OPELOUSAS — The budget cuts and financial austerity that plagued the St. Landry Parish school district four years ago have temporarily disappeared, the district’s finance director said Monday night.
Finance Director Tressa Miller reviewed a $116.8 million general fund budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 that shows an anticipated $17.5 million fund balance.
Miller in an interview said the board’s general fund budget is vastly different than the one in 2011 that eventually led to severe budget cuts, employee layoffs and included the resignation of Superintendent Michael Nassif.
Following Nassif’s resignation, the board appointed two interim superintendents who headed the school system after the district declared a financial exigency in May 2011.
“We’re not at the point yet where we are spending where we shouldn’t be and we’re not going to do that,” Miller said. “There are no longer all the cutbacks and layoffs that he had (in 2011-12). We’re only spending what we feel needs to be spent and that’s it.”
Miller also handled the budget during the financial crisis four years ago and her management practices since then received compliments from several board members at the end of Monday’s three-hour meeting.
The board reviewed the proposed general fund budget, which will be presented for final adoption at Thursday’s meeting.
Last week, the Finance Committee reviewed the budget and then voted to call Monday’s special meeting to allow the board time to discuss the matter with Miller.
During the meeting, Miller went over each line item in the 38-page budget.
Board members Randy Wagley, Charles Ross, Donnie Perron and Albert Hayes were absent.
According to the budget, the district employs nearly 2,000 workers. Personnel Director Matthew Scruggins said there are 14,106 students who have attended classes since school started on Aug. 13.
The budget shows the district will receive about $300,000 more than last year in state Minimum Funding Program funding. Miller told the board that some of that revenue will be cut depending upon how many students attend charter schools.
Board member Milton Ambres questioned an $84,272 expenditure for bus maintenance workers. Ambres said he saw no need for bus maintenance employees, since the district has entered into a $449,328 annual contract to provide upkeep for buses and transportation equipment.
Superintendent Edward Brown said one of the workers has been transferred to the general maintenance department.
Despite the budget optimism, the 2015-16 budget contains revenue cuts over the previous fiscal year.
There is a projected $650,000 revenue decrease in property taxes, another $450,000 less in Medicaid payments to the district and workers’ compensation costs are expected to rise about $220,000.
The hiring of 17 bus drivers who were formerly paid as substitutes will cost an additional $450,000 and the district will spend $84,000 per year over five years for five new buses.
Elementary school principals will cost the system $88,000 more annually after the board voted two months ago to make the principals 12-month rather than 11-month employees.
Miller said the general fund will also transfer $1.2 million into the Food Services budget because of escalating operating costs.
Curriculum Director Claudia Blanchard said the district is spending $1.2 million more for math textbooks that contain Common Core standards.
Ambres said $200,000 that remains in a capital outlay fund should be earmarked instead for emergency school repairs throughout the district.
“We have 22 leaking roofs and I can’t see putting this money aside right now. It’s needed,” said Ambres.