The Lafayette Parish School Board is facing tough decisions and likely layoffs as it prepares to grapple with a $13 million projected budget shortfall for the upcoming school year.
Board members heard an initial budget report Wednesday from school system administrators. The discussion comes ahead of several budget workshops to be held in the coming months before the board is scheduled to adopt its final budget in June.
Billy Guidry, the school district’s chief financial officer, said sales tax revenues are estimated to be $5 million, or 7 percent less, next year. That’s in addition to the 8 percent decline in sales tax collections already this year.
The school system also stands to lose $2.58 million more to charter schools, as three existing charter schools in Lafayette Parish plan to expand their grade level offerings next year.
Although the board will see some expenses go down as the district loses more students to charter schools and fuel costs remain low, spending in other areas like textbook adoption and cost-of-living pay increases could rise.
Early estimates predict the board also will be faced with an $11.9 million budget shortfall for the 2017-18 school year and a $650,000 budget hole the year after.
“It’s important to keep in mind next two to three years,” Guidry said. “You can see we’re not out of the woods. We’ll still have a couple of challenging years.”
The board already is taking steps toward addressing the budget gaps. It voted 7-1 Wednesday night to alter student-teacher ratios, a move proposed by Superintendent Donald Aguillard as a way to help offset the district’s money woes. Board member Elroy Broussard was absent.
The board approved the same student-teacher ratios for the 2016-17 school year as it did for the current school year but changed the policy on when a school can add another teacher to a grade level if more students enroll. The new policy makes it harder to add teachers throughout the school year but also reduces student-teacher ratios for D- or F-rated schools. Ratios vary per grade level.
Board members debated adopting the current ratios without the changes proposed by Aguillard, stressing that the board should choose to spend more money in the classroom while making the tough cuts elsewhere in the budget.
“What are we here to do? We’re here to teach children. What do we need to teach children? Those are the things that should be funded first,” board member Justin Centanni said.
Aguillard countered that adopting current ratios without the changes would cost the board another $2.14 million on top of the already significant budget shortfall. He said to close a $13 million shortfall, about 200 employees could lose their jobs.
“There’s no evidence that we are suffering with the current pupil-teacher ratio,” Aguillard said.
He warned that an additional $2.14 million in teachers’ salaries means “we may or may not have social workers, school resource officers, nurses, clerical assistants, maintenance workers to carry on critical functions of this organization.”