The Lafayette Parish School Board on Wednesday rejected two charter applications from outside organizations as it gave the go-ahead for Superintendent Don Aguillard’s office to apply for a charter school of its own.
Amid a dim budget outlook that projects another year of declining sales tax revenues, the board also approved a $492 million budget that freezes employee salaries and cuts dozens of positions throughout the district.
The district faced a $10.4 million shortfall this year as sales tax collections are expected to drop by another 7 percent, or about $3.6 million, over the next school year, adding to the 8 percent in sales taxes already lost during the 2015-16 fiscal year.
About $5.3 million in excess general fund dollars will be used to balance the budget, leaving behind only the board-required three months in operating expenses stowed away for emergencies.
Should sales tax collections dip below the budgeted amount, the board may have to reduce its emergency expense requirement.
Forty teaching positions will be removed from schools that had positions above the teacher-student ratio, but principals will be allowed to appeal up to 28 of those positions should student population needs increase.
Four special education teacher positions will be removed, along with four-and-a-half assistant principal positions; five middle and high school teachers; four elementary teachers; two social workers; and one secondary school counselor, curriculum coordinator and behavioral interventionist. Eleven central office positions were cut. But the district added five English-as-a-second language teaching positions, nine para-educator positions and two drill instructor positions. The drill instructors will replace AMIkids, a contracted program that serves students in need of severe behavioral intervention.
State and local tax revenues that fund the district based on its student enrollment also have decreased in recent years as they were rerouted to three state-approved charters in Lafayette Parish. Some $14.2 million in 2015 and $18.9 million in 2016 were lost after three charter schools opened in the parish, according to figures provided by Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry.
The board pointed out the shortfalls when discussing whether to approve applications Wednesday from Athlos Academy, a proposed K-8 school operated by an Idaho-based company, and Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, which is a high school geared toward overage students and those at-risk of dropping out.
“It is my belief that as an elected public school board member there’s an inherent conflict of interest in what I’m being asked to do,” said board Vice President Dawn Morris.
Board member Erick Knezek moved for the conditional approval of both charters, but both failed.
The motions would have given conditional approval for both schools to open in the parish. It would have required the schools to let the district decide their locations and to contract with the district for transportation and special-education services.
Knezek said the motions were an effort to show the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the district attempted to negotiate with the schools. The charter schools can now appeal to BESE to open a Type 2 charter.
All three existing charter schools in the parish were rejected by the parish school board and approved by BESE.
“When you look at the likelihood of it being approved as a Type 2 and the repercussions of that, we’re in a position right now to mitigate that,” Knezek said.
Athlos Academy of Lafayette estimates it would receive about $8.5 million in public dollars if allowed to open in the parish, according to the proposed budget submitted to the district.
An estimated $636,000-$682,000 would be rerouted from the parish school system to JCFA, which operates three schools in the New Orleans area.
Voting in favor of conditional approval for Athlos Academy: Knezek and Jeremy Hidalgo. Voting no were Mary Morrison, Elroy Broussard, Tehmi Chassion, Britt Latiolais and Morris.
Board President Tommy Angelle and Justin Centanni abstained.
Voting in favor of conditional approval for JCFA: Broussard, Hidalgo and Knezek. Voting no were Angelle, Chassion, Morris and Morrison.
A unanimous vote also gave the go-ahead for Aguillard and his staff to submit an application to BESE for a Type 4 charter, which is a charter school approved both by the local school district and the state board.
Aguillard said the charter application is not necessary to open the school, but he thinks the charter designation is important.
“It’s more symbolic than anything else. It doesn’t give us an advantage one way or another, but it symbolizes this is a different kind of school,” Aguillard said.
The application is due June 10.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.