GONZALES - The Ascension Parish School Board approved an operating budget of $187 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The budget adopted Tuesday night includes a projected $9.7 million deficit over expected revenue, and will reduce the general fund balance to $47.7 million.

That picture has improved since last year at this time, when the 2010-11 budget predicted an $18 million deficit driven by a $6.6 million increase in retirement costs, $5 million for land acquisition, and $1.3 million in state-mandated salary increases, said Business Services Director Diane Allison.

Cost-cutting measures whittled this year’s projected deficit down to just under $4 million as of Tuesday night, though Superintendent Patrice Pujol has those same measures mean less wiggle-room in next year’s budget, and less chance the $9.7 million deficit will decrease by much at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

At the same time, the system plans $44 million in capital improvement projects funded with dedicated revenues, Allison said.

That includes $34.8 million in 2009 general obligation bond projects to upgrade some of the system’s older campuses, and $9.7 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds issued in 2009 and this year, part of which will fund a new facility to replace the aging G.W. Carver Primary School.

Other matters considered by the board included:

LAND AGREEMENT: The board approved a purchase agreement for the M.P. Evans property, a 63-acre tract of undeveloped land off La. 44, for $24,000 an acre, said board attorney Jeff Diez.

The agreement includes a 60-day window to allow the system’s Planning and Construction department time to complete an environmental study, and to make sure the land is suitable for building, followed by a 120-day waiting period.

The move comes after a deal to buy a 63-acre tract in Edenborne subdivision fell through, Director of Planning and Construction Chad Lynch said.

River Parishes Community College is planning to buy a tract in Edenborne, and the board had hoped to build a collaborative high school/technical school adjacent to the property.

The Evans property is close enough to make that viable, Lynch said.