The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Wednesday began discussing 53 budget cuts that would save the school system an estimated $28.6 million during the 2012-13 fiscal year, including possibly closing two schools and merging two small alternative schools.
The School Board took no votes Wednesday, but could approve many of the cuts at a special meeting starting at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Interim Superintendent Carlos Sam said he’s going to ask the School Board to immediately approve all but two items — closing Polk Elementary and transporting parochial school children at later times than they go to school now.
Sam said he held a meeting at Polk Elementary on Monday night to present the idea of closing the small school of just 185 students and came away with some alternatives to explore.
Sam said he had a separate meeting Wednesday afternoon with local Catholic school leaders and said that he’s agreed to give them a few days to come up with alternative money-saving ideas instead of changing start times for Catholic schools. The start time shift would allow the school system to take an estimated 54 buses off the road and save about $2 million a year.
Other cutbacks would save about $25 to $26 million.
The School Board has until June 30 to approve its general operating budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but Sam said he’d like the cuts to be approved by the end of this month.
Sam is suggesting the board cut at least $29 million in 2012-13.
James Crochet, chief finance officer, warned that the cuts are not likely to stop with this coming fiscal year. Crochet is estimating cuts of $15 million, $14 million, and $11 million for each of the following fiscal years.
Jerry Arbour, co-chairman of a board task examining the budget, said he’s satisfied Sam and his staff members have carefully scrutinized the budget.
“They’ve really looked at this budget from the top to the bottom and they’ve really done a very good job,” Arbour said.
The cutbacks proposed so far avoid layoffs and increases in class sizes.
However, they call for eliminating dozens of specific jobs, many of them instructional positions created over the past several years to help schools. The people holding those jobs are either leaving already or will transfer to other vacant jobs in the system.
Several of the positions on the chopping block grew out of initiatives started during the more financially flush tenure of Superintendent Charlotte Placide. For instance, an elementary math initiative, which placed math coaches in many elementary schools, is being cut in half, with just 12 coaches staying in schools, a savings of nearly $1 million.
Sam also presented the board with 11 new spending items that would cost about $1 million. He said the school system may have to spend even more money, depending on what it decides to deal with the state’s planned takeover of Istrouma High and what it does with other schools it might close.
“We were hoping the board would give some additional ideas of things to cut, but it kind of went the other way,” Sam said.
The cutbacks under consideration include closing Polk Elementary and EBR Lab Academy, and merging two small alternative schools, Northdale Magnet Academy and the EBR Acceleration Academy, into one school on the Northdale campus.
A dozen or so supporters of EBR Lab showed up at Wednesday’s board meeting.
EBR Lab was formed in 2007 as a post Hurricane Katrina experiment in creating a small high school. Housed in part of Istrouma High, the independent high school has only 203 students, about half its intended enrollment of 400.
The school narrowly staved off an attempt to close it this year. But the state’s recent announcement that it was taking over the Istrouma High campus may have sealed the small school’s fate.
School supporters, though, are fighting back.
Amy Cohen, who teaches Spanish and social studies, said the school didn’t learn officially it was being closed until a school meeting Monday.
“We were told that this only because of the budget. It had not to do with the quality of instruction, which is extremely frustrating,” Cohen said
Here are some other proposed reductions and the estimated savings:
The information presented to the School Board on Wednesday is available at: http://schoolboard.ebrschools.org/eduWEB2/1000145/docs/awk.bud.05.02.12.linpub.pdf
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