LUTCHER — The St. James Parish School Board approved most of a $56.9 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15 but omitted additional money for high school athletic transportation after the subject turned controversial Tuesday.
The School Board will revisit the issue of paying 100 percent of all athletic transportation costs for the parish’s two high schools, Lutcher High School and St. James High School, at the next board meeting July 22 if board members get a chance to meet with the schools’ athletic directors beforehand.
The current fiscal year for the school system, overseeing 3,800 students, ends June 30.
The School Board pays for one bus to be used for athletic program transportation at Lutcher High and two buses at St. James High. The athletic program at St. James High also pays about $9,000 for three additional buses for athletic events, said board member Ricky Reulet Jr.
Although more students attend Lutcher High, Reulet said, these students can walk or are able to use their own vehicles or get rides to sporting events while students at St. James High rely mostly on school-provided transportation.
“We wanted to make everybody equal by paying for transportation at St. James,” Reulet said.
The proposed budget also allocates $11,000 to each high school athletic program as well as additional enrollment-based sums of $13,195 to Lutcher High and $8,805 to St. James High.
During a finance committee meeting prior to the School Board meeting, Reulet made a motion to recommend approval of the 2014-15 budget with the proposed financial allocations to the schools’ athletic program included as well as covering transportation costs for all sporting events at the schools.
“Games, practice, whatever they need,” said Reulet.
The finance committee unanimously approved the motion but when the topic came before the full School Board, board members had questions.
George Nassar said he was not against paying for transportation but wanted clarification as to which athletic programs would receive their transportation bills paid and during which sporting events the free transportation would be provided.
Nassar said he also wants a cost estimate before agreeing to the provision.
“We need to spell out what’s going to be paid for and what’s not,” he said.
Superintendent Alonzo Luce asked if the School Board would provide “an unlimited checkbook” for these transportation costs.
Nassar then made a substitute motion to approve the budget but delay voting on the transportation costs until school board members meet with each school’s athletic directors.
The motion passed on a 5-2 vote, with Kenneth Foret, Carolyn Lambert, Charles Nailor, Diana Cantillo and Nassar voting yes and Patricia Schexnayder and Reulet voting no.
The 2014-15 budget includes a $3.8 million deficit, but a robust general fund reserve padded by record-setting sales tax collections over the past several years will offset the shortfall, said Jim Mitchell, the school system’s administrative director of business operations.
The budget calls for $20 million in sales tax collections with property tax collections expected to rise from $18.1 million in the current fiscal year to a projected $19 million for 2014-15.