The East Baton Rouge Parish school system on Thursday unanimously approved a $461 million general operating budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, in the process spending some $30 million more than the school system expects to take in.

Incoming Superintendent Warren Drake, however, is looking into ways to cut costs. The first cut, his plan to reorganize the central office, also was approved unanimously, saving an estimated $1 million. Some of that will come from the general operating budget, while some comes from the $20 million federal Title I budget, also approved Thursday.

The new organizational chart eliminates 34 positions and creates nine positions. The changes take effect June 30. Thursday’s vote allows Drake to continue to finalize his plan over the coming days.

Board member Vereta Lee said she’s not happy with the proposed pay levels and duties of some of the positions he’s created or moved.

Drake said he and board members won’t always agree on everything, but he will work to make it come out right in the end.

“You’re going to have to trust me on this sometime. I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “It’s not something haphazard or suddenly done.”

The reorganization substantially changes the setup Drake inherited from outgoing Superintendent Bernard Taylor, eliminating a number of positions Taylor created during his three years leading the second-largest school district in the state.

The biggest savings, almost $600,000, comes from dropping 18 spots for youth advocates, a Taylor-created position designed to head off potential discipline problems at certain schools. The School Board in August 2013 rejected Taylor’s push to expand the program across the district.

Thursday was Drake’s second meeting as the head of the school system, taking over June 1 after Taylor opted to take leave for the month of June. Drake takes over as permanent superintendent July 1.

Taylor prepared the 344-page budget the School Board approved Thursday. It projects $461 million in spending next fiscal year and $431 million in revenue. But because district’s reserves are strong, the school system still expects to end the 2015-16 fiscal year with about $24 million in the bank.

As in years past, charter schools are getting much of the blame for the rising costs. For fiscal year 2015-16, about $11.7 million more is being set aside to pay for new and expanding charter schools, some connected with the school system, some independent.

Four new charter schools are slated to open in August, and others continue to expand. The School Board on June 4 rejected four applicants seeking to start new charter schools in fall 2016. Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations via contracts.

The approved budget includes step increases for employees, at a cost of about $2 million. In three of the past five years, salaries have been frozen.

“All the salaries will be unfrozen, and everyone will advance a step,” said Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer.

Under Drake’s reorganization plan, he has placed almost everything under a deputy superintendent, but he said that not does not imply he will be hands off.

“Everything that happens in this district, good or bad, reflects on me,” he said. “I’m responsible for it.”

The new structure eliminates the current position of deputy superintendent of innovation and reform, a job held now by Michael Haggen, as well as three other associate superintendent jobs, all created by Taylor.

Two of those three associate superintendents, Herman Brister Sr. and Carlos Sam, recently have taken jobs as school superintendents in Baker and in East Feliciana Parish, respectively.

Drake also hired at least one new top administrator, Michelle Clayton, a former top lieutenant from the top-ranked Zachary school district. Clayton has closely worked with Drake on the reorganization.

Drake said some of those in eliminated positions have left already for other jobs, but some are applying for other jobs in the system and are serious candidates.

Four people will report to the deputy superintendent. The first among equals is an assistant superintendent of academics. That person originally had 17 listed areas of responsibility, compared with just a handful of responsibility areas for the other three administrators who report to the deputy superintendent.

But Drake has shifted four of those areas. They will now report directly to the deputy superintendent.

In other action, the board:

  • Called an election on Oct. 24, the same date as the gubernatorial election, to renew three property taxes: 5.99 mills for employee salaries and other benefits; 1.04 mills for general operations and maintenance; and 0.72 mills for the I Care anti-drug program. If renewed, they would remain on the tax rolls for 10 more years through 2026. The combined 7.75 mills costs $968.75 for the owner of a home valued at $200,000.
  • Approved opening new magnet programs this fall at both Capitol and Southeast Middle schools. Capitol’s focuses on computer game design and animation, while Southeast’s focuses on digital arts and technology. The former is expected to cost the school system $328,500 next year, and the latter $387,000 next year. A related proposal adds gifted-and-talented services, creating a Great Scholars Academy at Capitol Middle at a cost of $207,500 next year but only within Capitol’s attendance zone, which the board expanded May 21.