The St. Tammany Parish School Board on Thursday night adopted a $419 million budget for 2017-18 that projects growth in tax revenues and provides about a 3 percent raise for all employees.
The budget follows the adoption of a new salary schedule at the board's June meeting that ended a freeze on salaries that had limited pay increases to those provided by one-time-only stipends.
Last year, teachers received a $1,000 one-time stipend, spokeswoman Meredith Mendez said. Each of the previous two years, 2014-15 and 2015-16, their base pay had been increased by $775, she said.
School Board member Michael Dirmann described this year's salary increases as a very long time in coming.
The school system, which is the largest employer in St. Tammany Parish, has about 5,900 employees.
Board member Michael Nation praised the administration for submitting a balanced budget with 76 percent of spending directed to instructional services.
Dirmann said the school system is working with declining funding from the state but was still able to provide raises. He said the budget adopted Thursday "works for everyone, including our constituents."
The school system is projecting a $1.1 million decrease from last year in Minimum Foundation Program allocations from the state.
A budget message from the administration noted that the state portion of the MFP was reduced because of increases in local revenues over the last few years, but it said an increase of 250 students for this school year will offset some of the decrease when the final MFP payments are adjusted in April.
The school system will not receive $1.2 million it got last year through the state's budget process.
But the budget anticipates increases in tax revenue, with property tax from the system's 65.41 mills bringing in an additional $3.2 million, according to the budget message. Sales tax revenue is also growing, but the school system is budgeting conservatively and projects only a $700,000 increase for the year. It will look at that figure each month and adjust it if necessary.
The school system will also get $764,861 from the sale of its Covington Annex building to the Southern Hotel.
The system will spend $234 million on salaries, a $4.1 million increase over last year. That category makes up nearly 56 percent of the general fund budget.
Retirement costs are up $3.4 million because of an increase in employer contribution rates and also because of the increase in employee salaries, the budget message said.
The system will spend $3.3 million more on new textbooks this year than last year but will see reduced costs for utilities — dropping by $1.7 million — and for workers compensation and health insurance, which will see a $1.4 million reduction because of changes in premiums and benefits.
The budget includes nearly $38 million for building improvements and construction projects. Money from a 2013 bond construction fund will be used for about $4 million in technology purchases, a classroom addition at Lancaster Elementary in Madisonville and ongoing improvements at Slidell and Pearl River high schools.
Money from the parishwide construction fund also will be used for repairs, maintenance and improvements at Covington, Fontainebleau, Mandeville, Northshore and Salmen high schools.
Separate from the 2017-18 budget action, the School Board approved a move to help ease crowding at Madisonville Elementary and Mandeville High School by reallocating to them $25 million that had been set aside for an advanced studies high school in Lacombe.
Plans for that school have not moved forward, and Superintendent Trey Folse recommended moving the money to more critical needs at the School Board's "committee of the whole" meeting on Sept. 7. Plans for the money have not been finalized, but it will be used to expand classroom space at the two schools.
Nation called the recommendation a wise one, noting that he has a child at Mandeville High School now and has had two others there and that he's seen the needs there firsthand.
Board member Sharon Lo Drucker, whose district includes Madisonville Elementary, said she, too, has a child at Mandeville High and has seen that both schools are "extremely challenged." She applauded the decision to provide some construction money for them.
The board voted to accept previously recommended architectural firms for work at the two schools.