OPELOUSAS — Projected budget cuts, currently unspecified, will be presented to a Finance Committee later this month to reduce financial difficulties for the St. Landry Parish public school district, acting superintendent Donnie Perron said this week.
Perron said late Tuesday that St. Landry is not bankrupt and that the district will be able to meet its monthly payroll obligations Friday for about 2,000 employees.
That doesn’t mean the parish isn’t experiencing overall budgetary problems, said Perron, who was appointed acting superintendent by a 7-5 vote earlier this month.
“It’s very close,“ said Perron, when asked if the district is broke. “There’s not much wiggle room.”
Perron declined to say what specific cuts he has in mind.
“We’re going to make more cuts, maybe doing such things as freezing travel and holding payments. Nothing is definite right now. Our priority is to pay our employees and that’s what we plan to do,” he said.
In an email sent to employees at the end of Thursday’s school day, Perron confirmed that sentiment when he wrote that all workers will continue to get paid.
“As you know, our system as well as many other school systems throughout the state are experiencing some financial difficulties at this time. Cost-saving measures are being taken so that we can continue to meet all our financial obligations,” Perron wrote.
A Nov. 10 fax from Perron and finance director Tressa Miller to the district’s principals, indicates the parish was having problems finding enough money to satisfy $2.1 million in state payroll taxes due Tuesday.
“We do not have enough money in our general funds account to cover the entire amount,” the fax said.
The fax also contained a request by Perron and Miller seeking repayment of $500,000 in outstanding loans owed by schools to the district.
Since the fax was sent, Perron said the payroll taxes for November have been paid.
The payroll tax issue is a monthly one for the system. Payroll taxes paid by the district to the state also include money for employee benefits, he said.
Perron said the loans in question are usually made by the School Board to schools for various purchases such as equipment or uniforms, with the stipulation that the money would eventually be repaid.
That apparently has not been the case with all schools, said Perron.
“Since we sent out the letter, we have gotten some payments back on the loans. It’s hard to say how much, maybe a few thousand dollars. We needed some of these payments in order to get some cash flow going and start creating some savings. Everything adds up,” he said.
Board member Harry Fruge said he isn’t surprised at the amount still owed to the district by various schools.
“The board makes the loans and the schools promise to pay them, but then those loans are swept under the rug. I don’t doubt that they owe that much. The system right now is looking for every penny,” said Fruge.
Perron said he met with State Department of Education officials and attorneys Monday and Tuesday to discuss St. Landry’s financial situation.
“We met with the financial officers there to get clarification on state laws about what we can and can’t do in connection with the budget.
“I think after meeting with them they understand we have some issues with the budget right now and that there is not very much room to play with,” he said.
Board member John Miller said he’s concerned about the lack of transparency between the district’s central office administrators and the School Board, which is responsible for approving the budget.
“All the news I get about finances is through the news media. As of (Tuesday) since September, no one from the central office has called me to discuss finances.
“This system is bankrupt. We are broke and yet not one meeting has been called and not once has anyone tried to call me. What is there to hide?” Miller said.
Perron said he was unaware of the severity of the system’s finances.
“I don’t think anyone truly knew. You kept hearing that (there were financial problems) for years, but until you deal in detail with it in detail and ask questions, you realize there is a lot more to it than you realized,” he said.
Perron’s appointment as acting superintendent came a week after superintendent Michael Nassif left the system in October and began taking his accumulated sick days.
Shortly afterward, James Olivier, assistant superintendent in charge of operation resigned.
In August former finance director Randy Manuel retired.