Advocate staff photo by STACY GILL -- Zachary Superintendent Scott Devillier was the guest of Danette Castello Jan. 15 at Rotary's weekly meeting. Devillier presented a district update on the one-cent sales tax proposition that will be on the March 28 ballot.

Zachary School Superintendent Scott Devillier is on a mission to inform the community about the 1-cent sales tax increase the Zachary Community School Board is asking voters to consider on the March 28 ballot.

On Jan. 15, Devillier provided an update to members of the Zachary Rotary Club.

“We’ve been discussing district budget issues and finances for about five years now, and outgoing board members have had plenty of discussions,” Devillier said.

His job, Devillier said, is to educate the community on where the district is currently; to make the best decisions possible; and to educate new board members on the budget and the issues surrounding it.

Devillier provided a snapshot of the district’s finances, not unlike the presentation shared with the community during town hall meetings in October.

In 2009-10, the state Legislature eliminated the district’s annual 2.75 percent Minimum Foundation Program increase resulting in lost revenue for the district while at the same time requiring additional funding for new initiatives, Devillier said.

“For the 2013-14 fiscal year, the lost revenue amounted to about $3.5 million,” Devillier said.

Since 2009, the Zachary district has seen increases totaling $4 million in retirement costs and about $1 million in health benefits, he said. Mandated employer contributions to teachers’ retirement funds increased from 15.5 percent of the employee’s salary in 2010 to about 28 percent in 2014. That increase in retirement costs equated to about $3.8 million for the 2010-11 budget and about $7.8 million in 2013-14, Devillier explained.

Devillier said the district can continue to cut until the effect reaches the students and the classrooms.

“We don’t want to go there, but the fact is, that’s where we’re headed. Cuts in various programs across the board including the arts, athletics and in lots of different areas will happen,” Devillier said. “And the cuts will happen this year, next year and the following year.”

Devillier said that before those cuts are made, officials want to know if that’s what the community wants.

“We have the best school system in the state and the No. 5 high school in the state,” Devillier said. “The top four high schools are magnet or private schools.”

Devillier said that if the 1-cent tax increase passes, the revenue it would generate — about $4.5 million — would be used to fill in the deficit and pay for some teachers to attend professional development courses that have been cut the past few years.

“We wanted to build nice, new schools and give our children a better learning environment,” Devillier said.

“We’d like to offer our students many opportunities, but with cuts, we’d actually have to take a step back, and we don’t want to do that,” Devillier said.

The Zachary school district has roughly 5,483 students enrolled and about 618 district employees, with about 404 of those employees working as teachers.