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East Baton Rouge Parish Schools superintendent Warren Drake sits in on during a meeting of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Thursday, February 21, 2019, at the school board offices in Baton Rouge, La.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system appears to have figured out how to balance its books for the coming school year. But this balancing act is likely short-lived.

The school system on Tuesday released the new proposed general operating budget, which the board is expected to take up Thursday. A final vote, however, may not happen until next month.

For the first time since 2012, the proposed budget projects the school system will bring in more money than it expects to spend.

The state budget deal, approved June 6, is the biggest factor in creating the new balance. That deal adds $10.2 million to the local school system's revenue. Slightly over half that, $5.5 million, is funding a $1,000 teacher pay raise as well as a $500 raise for support workers. The remaining $4.7 million is available for general education purposes.

Also helping bring financial balance is an infusion of $3.9 million from a separate school system fund known as Proposition 3, which supplements employee salaries and benefits. That fund is financed by half of a one-cent sales tax earmarked for education that East Baton Rouge Parish voters renewed in April 2018.

Tapping the surplus in that fund, however, won’t be an option every year. The move will shrink the surplus from almost $12 million to about $8 million.

And school system expenses are likely to rise again in 2020-21. That’s when four charter schools the board approved in May open their doors. Existing charters also are expected to add more students. Charter school growth has been blamed for years for much of the school system’s financial problems.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via charters, or contracts.

The School Board, which insisted earlier this month on a balanced budget, will take up the proposed 312-page general fund budget when it meets 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive. But the budget is unlikely to be finally approved until the board’s regular meeting a month from now on July 18.

Board President Mike Gaudet is sticking with an earlier pledge to put off a final vote, which usually occurs in June, giving the public more time to read the proposal.

“That hasn’t made me the most popular person in the world,” Gaudet admitted.

To ensure that employees continue to get paid in July, Gaudet said, he is asking the board to approve a salary schedule Thursday night for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

The general fund accounts for about three-quarters of all school spending each year.

The school system’s Finance Office released a first draft of the 2019-20 general fund budget on May 22, but board members quickly objected because it anticipated spending $7.1 million more than the school system plans to take in revenue, drawing further on the system’s shrinking reserves.

The new draft, released Tuesday, shows a shift of more than $7.5 million to the good for the system’s bottom line. That would allow the school district, the second largest in Louisiana, to maintain about $24.3 million in undesignated reserves. That’s slightly higher than the amount it expects to end the current fiscal year with.

The new proposal calls for spending $456.8 million in 2019-20 and estimates generating $457.2 million in revenue.

Other than the new state money and the infusion of funds from Proposition 3, the new general operating budget is largely the same as the earlier version.

It cuts 2.9 percent from the school system's budget by eliminating more than 200 jobs and spending less on textbooks and transportation. The new version has about a dozen fewer positions than the earlier version.

The proposed job cuts range from four school librarians to 65 classroom teachers. Also targeted are positions for four principals and 17 assistant principals.

Gaudet said the trims in job positions probably should have occurred a year ago. He described what’s happening now not as cuts but as “rightsizing” in order to adjust to shrinking enrollment at district-run, non-charter schools.

“Quite honestly we were overstaffed last year,” he said.

In other business, the board is set to consider:

  • A request from Super Insulation for a 10-year industrial tax break for a proposed $8.4 million expansion project at its Baton Rouge facility. On June 12, the Metro Council granted this request after critics of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program said they did not object. The company estimates it will add six new jobs to the 34 positions that already make up the company's approximately $2.2 million payroll. Gov. John Bel Edwards through an executive order revamped ITEP by giving local tax authorities the power to decide which companies can get the tax break.
  • Hiking by 6.4 percent monthly health insurane premiums for employees, both active and retired, who use insurance provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana. The increase would take effect in January. The board took up the item when it met in May, but put off a decision for a month.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.