The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed April 20 to spend about $33.3 million less to close a looming budget hole for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The proposed 2011-12 general operating budget that reflects those cutbacks, however, was not released until Thursday.
The need to approve this key budget, which the board by law has to do by June 30, means the board will have to vote on these cuts all over again.
A meeting is scheduled June 13 to debate the proposed budget, and the final budget vote is set for June 20 — which gives opponents of specific cuts a second chance to make their case.
The unusual situation — of approving cuts before actually having a budget to review — was necessary because of the size and severity of the cuts under consideration, Superintendent John Dilworth said.
Board member Jerry Arbour, a former board president, argued unsuccessfully to delay approving the cuts until there was a proposed budget in hand.
The cut that generated the most debate in April was eliminating some direct bus routes for students in gifted and talented programs.
The move, which affects buses with fewer than 30 students on board, means the system won’t have to hire about 16 drivers, saving an estimated $850,000 in the process. Affected students will have to get to school via the school system’s transfer point, meaning a longer trip to school.
Several parents with children in gifted classes vigorously oppose the move, saying they fear for their children’s safety if they have to go through the transfer point and worry they will get lower grades thanks to longer bus rides.
Opponents of the change held at least one meeting in May with Dilworth in hopes of finding an alternative.
The proposed budget that was released Thursday, however, makes it clear that any program the School Board removes from the chopping block will have to be offset by a separate cut, or the system risks going into the red.
The budget calls for spending $413 million in 2011-12, which begins July 1. The school system, however, is anticipating receiving only $389 million in revenue to pay for that spending.
It will be the fourth consecutive year that the school system is spending more money than it’s taking in. The $24 million gap, though, is smaller thanks to a proposed 2 percent increase in revenue and a 2 percent decrease in spending.
To cover the difference, the budget will draw from the system’s unassigned reserves, depleting that pool.
The general operating budget is one of dozens of budgets that the School Board approves each year. It is by far the biggest budget, representing about three quarters of school system spending.
With a zero balance in the unassigned reserve, the system may have a hard time avoiding debt for unforeseen expenses, such as hurricanes.
If such expenses arise, the school system will have to take in more revenue that it anticipates — drawing from other likely restricted funding sources — or it may have to divert money from other initiatives.
The financial picture doesn’t get any better in the future.
The school system’s Finance Office has estimated the need to trim spending by $94 million over the next four fiscal years to avoid debt and maintain a small reserve for emergencies.
Besides the already approved cuts for 2011-12, the school system estimates the need for further cuts of $34 million, $12 million and $9 million for the following three fiscal years.
School officials blame declining local tax collections, flat state education funding, cost-shifting by the state to local school districts, increasing costs for salaries and benefits, and diversion of money to charter schools for the financial problems.