NEW IBERIA — The Iberia Parish School Board learned Wednesday the system’s general fund is operating under a projected $1.7 million deficit.

Superintendent Dale Henderson said lower property values — attributed to last year’s oil drilling moratorium, retirement fund payments, and unexpected costs, such as $125,000 for new athletic buses — were the main causes of the deficit.

Henderson added, however, that this year’s deficit is smaller than last year’s. He said last year at this time the general fund was operating at a $3.4 million deficit, but by the end of the last fiscal year, the system posted a $1 million surplus.

He said he expects the case to be similar this year. In September, the school system’s parishwide sales tax income increased 14 percent over last year. According to the sales tax figures, in September 2010 the parish collected $1,917,028, and this year, the parish collected $2,193,580, which is an increase of $276,552.

Henderson said if the sales tax trend continues, it will offset the deficit further. Last year, school system staff was able to make budget adjustments throughout the year to make up the deficit, and that will continue this year, Henderson said.

NEW CAREER CENTER: The School Board unanimously approved advertising for bids for a new $3 million addition to the school system’s student career center campus.

A 14,000-square-foot building would provide teaching space for nursing, first responder and other students, Henderson said.

The career center’s campus is on Recreation Drive near the Acadiana Regional airport. It offers training for high school students in welding, carpentry, cosmetology and other professions, Henderson said.

The building will offer new classrooms and facilities, such as a computer lab, for students to use.

HEALTH INSURANCE: Also during the meeting, the board unanimously approved a new health insurance proposal that would increase costs to employees.

Board health insurance adviser James Perez said he was able to reach a deal with Blue Cross so that insurance rates will only rise 4 percent instead of the original 6.5 percent Blue Cross had wanted. The new plan goes into effect in January.

Some employees will see a rise in their health insurance rates and others will not, Perez said. Under employee health insurance Plan A, those covered would see a doctor visit co-pay increase from $25 to $40, and deductibles rise from $750 to $1,000.

Employees under the systems Plan B would not see changes, he said.