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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.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake wants to cut 3.4 percent from the school system's budget for the next academic year by eliminating nearly 200 jobs and spending less on textbooks and transportation.

The proposed job cuts range from four school librarians to 68 classroom teachers. Also targeted are positions for four principals and 17 assistant principals.

Drake identified nearly $21 million worth of cuts in a budget the School Board will consider June 20. The net decrease is $18.2 million because Drake wants $1 million for final flood repairs stemming from the 2016 floods and $912,000 for 14 new positions for magnet schools. He also wants $50,000 to help find his replacement; he's retiring in June 2020.

The superintendent had initially suggested more than $30 million in cuts, but he and his leadership team opted against another $16 million in potential trims.

The school system has dealt with financial problems for a decade, going back to the economic downturn in 2009. Since then state education funding has remained flat while school expenses have increased. One big cost driver has been the continual growth of charter schools in Baton Rouge.

Charter schools are public school run privately via charter, or contracts. For years, only a handful of charter schools operated in Baton Rouge. Now there are 29 and they educate about 10,000 students.

The local charter sector is expected to grow even more.

Thanks to expansion of existing charter school, the school system is estimating next year it will direct at least $12 million more to charter schools than it did this year. And earlier this month, the school system approved four more charter school applications, which will add an estimated $8.5 million additional spending the year they open in 2020-21.

At least two-thirds of school system spending embodied in salaries and benefits. Consequently, reducing payroll has been a logical target throughout the budget-cutting process this year.

In April, the board gave the superintendent authority to institute layoffs to meet his cut targets, and he can invoke that process, known as a Reduction in Force, as soon as next week. But as of Friday, his staff was still cautiously optimistic that the system won’t have to go to that extreme.

They’re pinning their hopes on the hundreds of employees who retire or leave for other jobs each year.

Meanwhile, another 150 school employees are still looking for jobs within the school system. These employees ended up on the in-district job market after receiving “impact letters” in April saying their current jobs were no longer needed at their current school.

Drake put his financial plans in writing this week when he released a $454.1 million proposed general operating budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The current budget is about $470 million. The general fund accounts for about three-quarters of all school spending each year.

The first budget debate is scheduled for June 6.

The 306-page budget document is more spendthrift than previous budgets Drake has submitted since he took over as superintendent in June 2015. Yet, it is still out of balance. Spending continues to outpace revenue by about $7.1 million. That figure is substantially less than in years past, but it still represents a notable deficit.

As in years past, the school system plans to stay in the black by drawing down its reserves. Those reserves, though, aren’t what they used to be.

Just two years ago, when it approved its budget, the School Board had more than $61 million in the bank to cover its overspending. This fiscal year, which ends June 30, the school system is expecting to finish out with less than a $23.9 million cushion. And if the proposed 2019-20 budget is approved as is, the school system estimates that its unassigned reserves will shrink to just $16.7 million.

Here are some of the proposed cuts/reductions Drake is proposing and the estimated amount of money they'd save:

  • $4 million, 78 regular education instructional staff positions, including 10 aides.
  • $2.2 million, 4 principals and 17 assistant principals.
  • $1.2 million, 23 guidance counselors or deans.
  • $1 million, spend less on textbooks.
  • $912,000, 23 positions in pupil support services.
  • $674,000, 25 positions in student transportation.
  • $552,000, seven gifted teachers, five clerks.
  • $526,000, eight instructional coaches.
  • $500,000, spend less for school bus equipment.
  • $472,000, 11 time-out room moderators.
  • $260,000, spend less for Our Lady of the Lake mobile health service.
  • $214,000, four school librarians.
  • $177,000, reduce hours of elementary school clerks.
  • $190,000, 20 percent reduction in employee travel budget.
  • $161,000, reduce contracts with several outside entities.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.

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