LAFAYETTE — An online suggestion box for how Lafayette Parish school system employees think the district should bridge a $12 million budget shortfall opens for comments Wednesday afternoon.

By then, school district Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry and other Central Office administrators will have paid visits to every school in the district to lay out financial challenges for the 2013-14 school year.

The district compiled its own list of possible reductions, described as “budget considerations,” but no decisions have been made, Guidry told Northside High staff Tuesday.

Discussions continue about what should be on or off the list, he said.

The items under discussion include increasing the student-teacher ratio by one student, eliminating an instructional model called “teaming” at middle schools and expanding the school “walk zone” for students to cut down on transportation expenses.

A link to the online survey and the budget presentation given at schools will be available to employees Wednesday afternoon, Guidry said.

The district’s general fund or operations budget totals about $244 million.

Eighty-seven percent of that, about $215 million, is designated for salaries and benefits, Guidry said.

By Friday afternoon, a copy of the budget with an updated list of budget cuts will be available online — days ahead of the School Board’s review of the general fund at a 4 p.m. workshop Tuesday.

“What lies ahead are cuts that will have an impact on large employee categories or school employees district-wide,” Guidry said.

The district has whittled its budget over the past few years as it balanced increased expenses for unfunded state requirements and rising retirement contributions with reduced state and federal support, Guidry said.

The School Board has dipped into its reserves or rainy day fund to help cover shortfalls in prior years. Last year, it used $4.8 million in its reserve fund.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to make the cuts,” Guidry said.

Since the 2009-10 school year, the state has not calculated into its revenue projections a 2.75 percent growth increase into the Minimum Foundation Program, the formula used to calculate per pupil funding for public education. For Lafayette Parish, that unfunded growth increase amounted to about $2.6 million this year, Guidry said.

In the upcoming school year, Guidry said, favorable sales tax collections likely will translate into a $2.5 million reduction in the district’s MFP allocation since the formula takes into account local funding support, Guidry said.

So far this year, sales tax collections have increased by about 8 percent or about $4 million more than for the same period last year, Guidry said.

The $4 million will help restore the $4.8 million the School Board used last year to balance its budget, Guidry said in an interview after the meeting.

The impact of this year’s shortfall could mean having to defer all or portions of the second year implementation of the district’s turnaround plan, Guidry said. The phased plan includes initiatives and programs to improve district performance.

Guidry presented the following “budget considerations:”

  • The reduction or elimination of “appeal” slots for additional staff could save $2.8 million.
  • The transfer of $2 million from capital projects into the general fund.
  • Increasing the student-teacher ratio by one student may save about $2.4 million. However, Guidry said, the move is unlikely since, “Dr. Cooper has been adamant about minimizing the impact to the classroom.”
  • Moving instructional strategist positions out of the general fund and into the 2002 sales tax fund could save about $2.8 million, but would reduce the supplemental check teachers and other certified employees receive in October. Last year, teachers received an $1,800 supplemental check from the fund’s excess reserve. The half-cent sales tax is for teacher raises and professional development.
  • Eliminating an instructional model called “teaming” at middle schools, could save about $1.3 million.
  • The elimination of physical education assistants and returning to a half-time elementary physical education program could yield $1.4 million in savings.
  • The reduction or elimination of sabbaticals frees up about $750,000.
  • A one-mile walk zone could reduce bus routes and save an estimated $3 million in transportation costs, a change that Guidry said is unlikely for this year.