EBR school system expects more spending in 2013-14 fiscal year

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system will dip substantially into its reserves to stay in the black during the fiscal year that starts July 1 with projected revenue decreasing and spending increasing sharply, according to a proposed general operating budget released Friday.

The proposed $424.6 million general fund budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year represents a 5.1 percent increase in spending overall. That’s $19.4 million in spending more than expected revenue, which is projected to decline 0.7 percent.

The budget anticipates the school system will end 2013-14 with just $7.3 million in unassigned reserves. That’s less than a third of the $23.9 million the school system expects to have in the bank when the current fiscal year ends June 30 and far less than auditors usually recommend.

This is Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s first budget since taking over the school system 11 months ago. He’s asking the School Board to fund a series of new initiatives but cut back in many other areas as well.

The net reductions Taylor included in the budget come to $7.8 million. That includes a net reduction of about 77 job positions. In particular, Taylor is targeting deans of students, 24, and time-out room moderators, 17, for significant cuts.

And for the fifth consecutive year, employees will not receive a step increase in pay. Some employees, however, will receive a little more under a new salary schedule the board approved this spring, a schedule that will cost about $1 million more overall.

At the same time, Taylor is seeking funding for several new initiatives. They include a series of new alternative schools, more secure doors and new intercoms and a new magnet program at Lee High. The alternative schools will feature heavy use of technology, so-called “blended learning.” The budget includes an anticipated $2.4 million increase in such technology.

The School Board is planning to discuss the proposed budget when it meets June 6 and to vote on it at its June 20 meeting.

The general operating budget is by far the biggest of the budgets the board approves each year, representing about two-thirds of overall spending.

The School Board on May 16 made at least one big move to improve its finances. It approved changes in employee health care, particularly for retirees, that will save an estimated $2.9 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year and more in the future.

Some of the increased spending in the next fiscal year, $7.5 million worth, reflects the already approved growth of the eight different charter schools the district has under its control. The fastest-growing such schools are the Career Academy, 100 more students; Inspire Charter Academy, 95 more students; and Thrive Charter, 60 more students.

Three of those charter schools could have grown even more if they had insisted on earlier enrollment targets.

Much of the new spending, as well as revenue decreases, is being driven by changes in school funding approved by state agencies and the Legislature. These include a projected $6.9 million decrease in the state’s per-pupil share of funding, a $5.6 million increase in employee retirement costs and $4.8 million more for a handful of state-run or authorized schools.

Absent the changes in state funding and spending mandates, the school system’s financial situation would be much improved. Local property and sales tax revenue is expected to increase by almost 2 percent in 2013-14, and the school system, which has more than 42,000 students, is projecting almost identical enrollment next year.

The state funding picture remains unclear. The Legislature has rejected the latest version of the school funding formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, a decision that if maintained would improve the school system’s bottom line a bit.

Susan Nelson, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the budget reflects a “worst case scenario.” She said the estimates will be revised once the Legislature finishes its session June 6.