Recently, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board passed a $454.8 million spending plan for the 2019-2020 school year. For the first time in several years, the budget is neither reliant on deficit spending nor on tapping a dwindling reserve account which has been dangerously discharged in recent years.
The School Board, and particularly Board President Mike Gaudet, should be commended for doggedly pursuing steps to balance the budget of the state’s second-largest school district. It was not an easy task. School officials started with a potential $20 million budget hole, got a draft budget that was $7 million in the red, and continued pushing to get their accounts balanced. Rather than repeat the sins of the past, the board and staff dug deep into the system’s finances to uncover a solution.
An 8-0 vote is not easy to come by on South Foster Drive, and it speaks to the leadership and commitment of the School Board that such a tough vote garnered unanimous support. This new board put the students of East Baton Rouge first and has started the long road of correcting the district’s course. Years of kicking the can down the road have forced these board members to make deeper cuts than would have been necessary had the process started years ago. Difficult financial decisions like these are familiar to businesses across the region, and while they are painful for the community and have heartrending effects on many individuals, when done responsibly, they are in the long-term best interest of the people being served: students and families across East Baton Rouge.
While passing a balanced budget is a critical first step, there is still much to be done to prevent the system from facing deep cuts every year in the future. The system is facing circumstances that will keep the threat of annual budget cuts at the door. Continued planning and consideration will be needed to put the system on firm budgetary footing that focuses resources in the classroom.
Our community should rally around this school board over the coming years as they continue this difficult and unpopular work. Today, we should thank them for their good work. It’s a solid first step.
Board of Directors chair, Baton Rouge Area Chamber