To get closer to financial balance, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system plans to cut positions for dozens of instructional coaches and middle school teachers as well as nixing about $2.5 million worth of school bus purchases, according to its proposed 2016-17 general operating budget.
The proposed cuts total roughly $15 million overall. Nearly half of the savings, about $7 million, stem from a new staffing formula going into effect this fall. The formula leaves elementary and high schools relatively unscathed, but middle schools would have about 52 fewer teachers this fall, and students in those grades would face larger class sizes. The total number of instructional coaches at all schools would shrink from 51 to just 12.
The cuts, however, are not enough to offset spending elsewhere, notably $6.8 million going to educate hundreds of additional children at charter schools in Baton Rouge. More than half of the expansion comes from Type 1 charter schools, schools under contract with the school system. The rest comes from schools chartered by the state. These include two new schools, Laurel Oaks Charter and Apex Collegiate Academy, which are opening this fall despite local objections. Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations.
The School Board plans to hold its first debate on the 2016-17 proposed budget Thursday at 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive. The board, however, is not planning to approve a budget until June 16 at the earliest.
Superintendent Warren Drake, who has just completed his first year leading the state’s second-largest public school district, also is calling for some new spending, including restoring job positions cut in the past. For instance, he has decreed that all schools are to have guidance counselors, librarians and clerks.
In addition, Drake proposes hiring more magnet and gifted-education teachers to support previously approved expansions in those programs. And he plans to hire more career and technical education teachers as part of an expansion of career-oriented classes at high schools.
Employees are slated to receive modest pay raises known as step increases for advancing up the salary scale, at a cost collectively of about $600,000.
The general operating budget, which would take effect July 1, calls for the school system to spend about $17 million more than it expects to receive in revenue in fiscal year 2016-17. To stay out of red ink, school leaders are planning to draw down their financial reserves. Those reserves, currently about $42 million, are expected to shrink to about $28 million in the process.
The school system’s general fund accounts for 70 percent of the more than $600 million the school system spends each year. The fund is the system’s primary source of unrestricted money to pay for operating expenses, to finance new initiatives or to cover emergencies. Since 2010, the school system has cut the budget annually because of a mix of tight state funding, a variety of expenses and growing competition from charter schools.
The proposed 2016-17 general fund budget, which was released several days ago, is the first Drake has had full control over. The 350-page document cements in place a variety of changes Drake made in his first year, including the elimination of a number of Central Office positions. The document calls for spending $451.7 million while raising just $434.7 million in taxes and other revenue. Drake said he hopes to get out of this deficit-spending cycle in another year or two.
Charter schools, however, will make that difficult. The school system plans to redirect $66.7 million to charter schools in 2016-17, up from just shy of $60 million this past year.
More charter schools are on the way. On May 26, the board approved giving Type 1 charters to Texas-based IDEA and New Orleans-based Inspire NOLA charter schools. In 2018-19, they plan to enroll as many as 1,760 children, or about $19 million worth of school funding. By 2021-22, they plan to educate as many as 9,300 children collectively. That’s more than $100 million in per-pupil school funding.