ZACHARY - State and local budget problems are affecting school systems across the state, and even Louisiana’s top-ranked school district is not immune to the cash pinch.

Based on current revenues and expenditures - if nothing changes - the Zachary Community School District potentially could face a $2.5 million operating deficit in the coming school year, Superintendent Warren Drake and other administrators told the School Board last week.

The district’s general fund budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 is $44.3 million, and the board is scheduled to vote June 23 on next year’s budget.

Zachary, which broke from the East Baton Rouge Parish in 2003, has been the state’s top-performing school district for six straight years.

Drake said the district’s challenge in the next year will be to save money while maintaining “our status as a model of excellence in every area.”

In a letter accompanying the staff’s recommendations for next year’s budget, Drake said the proposed cuts “will balance our budget without any job losses or reduction of salary for any employee.”

“Furthermore, our recommendation is based on the philosophy of taking a little from everyone and not a lot from a few. This way, we are able to absorb our reductions with very little impact on any area. In fact, all of our academic programs that we count on to get us to the top remain intact,” Drake wrote.

The staff presented the budget proposals in meetings with employees last month.

If approved by the board at its June 23 meeting, the ax would fall on a $500 cash incentive the district has been paying each year to encourage employees to work toward maintaining Zachary’s No. 1 district performance score.

Dropping the payments would save $320,000 next year, while discontinuing the $100 per semester incentive for employees with perfect attendance records would save another $8,000, according to the budget proposal.

Another possible savings would result from not giving employees the annual step increase in their salary schedules, but Drake said that option is out of the question.

On Feb. 15, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would recommend a third consecutive freeze in state aid for public schools through the Minimum Foundation Program.

The next day, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, agreed with Jindal and sent a proposed MFP budget to the Legislature that did not contain an increase for local districts to help offset hikes in employee insurance, retirement contributions and other expenses.

Before the 2009-10 school year, the MFP routinely would increase by 2.75 percent or more.

When last year’s MFP appropriation didn’t include a 2.75 percent increase, Zachary did not realize a gain of about $690,000 to offset rising costs, Drake and Finance Director Gordon Robertson said.

The district will not see an increase of about the same amount in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the state teacher retirement program is increasing the district’s contribution to 23.7 percent of an employee’s salary, costing an additional $900,000.

Two years ago, the district’s contribution was 15.5 percent, according to figures presented to the board.

About 81 percent of the district’s budget is spent on salaries and benefits.

In April, the board approved personnel changes that Drake and Personnel Director Yolanda Williams said would save $670,000.

The changes included seven resignations and three retirements, and Williams said some of the savings came about when mentor teachers were assigned to classroom duties.

The board also approved a contract with a lawn maintenance firm for a savings in salaries and benefits. Operations Director Scott Devillier said then that several vacancies on the lawn crew had not been filled and the remaining five full-time employees would be shifted to janitorial and maintenance positions.

With the elimination of part-time lawn crew members, a reduction in outside labor for maintenance work and cutting back on the use of rental equipment, the district hopes to save $625,000 for maintenance.

Other cost-savings measures proposed include using teachers with duty periods to replace substitute teachers, asking teachers to volunteer for after-school tutoring, reducing the technology, coaching and food service budgets and reducing or eliminating student workers.

To bring the $45 million budget into balance, district officials also hope to pick up an additional $290,000 in MFP funds for enrollment growth, $100,000 in sales taxes from an expected expansion of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. paper mill and $75,000 in extra revenue from various other sources.