LAFAYETTE — While the battle of the budget rages on, Lafayette Parish School System administrators may have to put off some purchases and contracts until the matter is resolved.
Since July 1, the school system has operated on 50 percent of last fiscal year’s budget, but just how far half of that $257.8 million will stretch this year is still being worked out, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said Friday.
Guidry said if the district has to account for only the expenses it’s paid so far, the 50 percent budget carries district operations through the end of December. However, an accrual of outstanding expenses — such as bills awaiting processing for payment — carries operations through to the end of November and possibly through a few weeks of December, he said. Guidry said he’s awaiting legal advice from the board’s general counsel on how the expenses must be tallied and expects a response early next week.
“I think we’ll be good through some part of December,” he said. “I just don’t know if it’s one week, two weeks.”
To stretch the budget to the end of December, nonsalary expenses would be reduced, he said, noting those expenses would be for services, supplies and contracts, not employee salaries or benefits.
The district began operations using 50 percent of the 2013-14 budget of $257.8 million since July 1 — the start of the new fiscal year — because at that time, the School Board had yet to adopt a budget.
While the School Board adopted its 2014-15 spending plan on Sept. 15, Superintendent Pat Cooper has disputed the legality of the adopted budget and refused to implement it. Instead of following the 2014-15 spending plan, he’s instructed Guidry to continue using half of last year’s budget.
Earlier this month, Cooper filed for an injunction, petitioning the court to intervene and force the board to continue operations at 50 percent of last year’s budget until a new board takes office in January. A district judge denied his request last week, and on Wednesday, Cooper filed a petition for a rehearing based on memos from state Superintendent of Education John White and the legislative auditor’s general counsel about the legality of the board’s budget.
While the memos were submitted prior to the judge’s ruling, Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, wrote in the request for a rehearing that he believes the memos weren’t considered by the judge.
Guidry said the district has been following last year’s budget closely, with the exception of staffing at schools with state performance accountability letter grades of D or F. School performance scores were released last week, and the number of F schools increased from one, J.W. Faulk Elementary, to include two more schools: Northside High and Moss Preparatory Academy.
Guidry said it’s unclear how many positions have been added and the dollar amount needed to offset those positions wasn’t unavailable.
The board has a staffing policy based on the number of students per classroom. The expense of those additional positions must be offset by reductions elsewhere to comply with the 50 percent budget, Guidry said.
The board’s general counsel has said Cooper could be liable for expenses not included in the board’s adopted budget.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.