After nine freezes in the past 10 years, news that basic state aid for public schools may be frozen yet again is sparking both resignation and worry among Louisiana superintendents.
"We kind of expected it, we kind of prepared for it," said Wesley Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system.
"It just continually makes it tougher for us to provide the number of personnel we would like to put in front of our students," Watts said.
Earlier this month Donald Songy, education adviser for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said it is unlikely the governor will recommend a hike in what the state spends on public school students.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is unlikely to recommend a hike in basic state aid for public schools, an aide to the governor said Tuesday.
Songy noted that the state faces a budget shortfall of around $1 billion for the financial year that begins July 1, a recurring theme in state government since 2008.
Louisiana is spending $3.7 billion to educate more than 700,000 students now.
Legislation that would authorize spending $3.7 billion for public schools for the 2017-18 academic year won final legislative approval Monday.
That translates to $3,961 per student.
The only time it has risen in the past decade was for the 2014-15 school year, from $3,855 per student.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will make its own spending recommendations to the Legislature in March.
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But the governor's stance, barring a sudden improvement in state finances, means a freeze in what the state spends per student is likely.
"Realistically, if there is no money there is no money," said Scott Devillier, superintendent of the Zachary School District, the top-rated school system for the past 13 years.
"But you know, on our end, if there is no cut we can manage," Devillier said.
Higher education and health care have faced multiple budget cuts in recent years.
"We have sort of planned on no additional money in the MFP," said Warren Drake, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School District.
Drake said he has directed his staff to prepare a zero-based funding formula.
"We have to anticipate being leaner every year," he said.
State school dollars are funneled through a formula called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.
The money helps pay for textbooks, school supplies, salaries, utilities and other operating costs.
Increasing health care and retirement costs are often cited as expenses that squeeze districts when school aid is frozen.
"With rising costs due to insurance and retirement, we will have to find a way to do more with less," Hollis Milton, superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish school district said in an email.
Increases in those two areas alone will cost the Central school system nearly $600,000 for the next school year, former superintendent Michael Faulk said.
Faulk, who stepped down as superintendent on Dec. 19, is now executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
David Alexander, superintendent of the Ascension Parish School District, said another freeze would damage an already modest support system.
"That funding from the state is already underfunded in so many ways," Alexander said.
"Obviously it is discouraging to think as you start creating your budget for the '18-19 school year that you are going to have to anticipate some places where you are going to have to look more closely and sharpen your pencil," he said.
For years basic state aid for public schools rose by 2.75 percent annually.
Had spending risen annually by that amount since 2009 the state would be spending $4,921 per student, according to figures compiled by the Louisiana School Boards Association.
The MFP should be adjusted so that it pays for mandated increases in health care and retirement now borne by local school boards, said Scott Richard, executive director of the LSBA.
Cade Brumley, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said another freeze would be disappointing.
But Brumley, in an email, also said "I'm a realist who understands the financial constraints of our state."
Brumley is superintendent of the DeSoto Parish school system in northwest Louisiana.
Doris Voitier, superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District and one of Edwards' three BESE appointees, said until the state's financial health improves MFP gains are unlikely.
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"This is not unusual, that we are not able to have a per pupil increase in the MFP," Voitier said.