Lafayette school board delays budget inspection, adoption

The public may not get a chance to view the Lafayette Parish school system’s $654 million proposed unified budget until late July or early August after School Board members decided Tuesday that they weren’t ready to issue the spending plan for inspection that was set to begin July 2.

There are too many issues to work out, such as the proposed elimination of about 44 teachers and seven assistant principals, now included in the approved proposed general fund budget, some board members said.

The cuts had been proposed due to overstaffing based on student enrollments. The board approved the $256 million general fund, which includes district salaries and instructional expenses, as well as other remaining funds, on June 18.

The board set a new date to continue budget discussions for 5:30 p.m. July 18. The board had scheduled a public hearing, followed by a vote on final budget adoption on July 17, prior to its regularly scheduled 5:30 p.m. meeting that day.

The one remaining fund awaiting approval was the capital improvement fund, which the board approved Tuesday in a 5-4 vote after it debated for nearly an hour over a $100,000 expense for portable building renovations to help teenage parents stay in school.

With the vote, board members removed the proposed $100,000 expense from the $11.6 million capital improvement fund. Board members in support of approving the fund without the $100,000 expense were Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion. Voting against approving the fund without the money for the renovations were Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb and Hunter Beasely.

Tuesday’s meeting and vote ended an extended budgeting process that began in April with a dozen other proposed accounts approved in meetings in May and earlier this month. The separate accounts make up the district’s $654 million budget for the 2013-14 school year.

“This has probably been the most painful budget process I’ve experienced since I’ve been on the board,” Awbrey said.

The reason for the “painful” process, Awbrey said, is that the board didn’t receive information about programs, such as the teen parenting center, until the budget process.

District staff made a presentation about the teen parenting center program, which will be housed at Northside High, last month prior to one of the board’s budget meetings, however, the program was included in the district’s turnaround plan, approved by the board last year.

Initially, the renovations for four portable buildings were estimated at more than $200,000, and that amount was stripped by the board and moved into the general fund at an earlier meeting to help close a budget shortfall that at the time was about $4 million.

However, staff reduced the program from four buildings and 32 students to two buildings for 16 students and their children at a cost of $100,000. The revision was presented last week to the board in the capital improvement fund, but the entire $11.6 million fund wasn’t approved in a 3-3 vote on June 18 following debate over the teen parenting program expense.

Because the fund was not approved last week, the board called another special meeting Tuesday to make a decision on the account.

Because it previously failed, Trahan questioned why the expense was still in the account.

“I think the board gave clear direction where it was going,” she said. “It took a vote and it was no. No is no. That money should not be in there because it was a no vote. At this point, I think it should be removed because we voted no.”

Superintendent Pat Cooper attempted to explain why the funding request was reissued to the board, but Trahan cut him off, asking Cobb: “Did he ask to be recognized, Mr. President?”

Later, Cooper explained, “At one time or another there were five members of the board who had voted for this. We thought we would bring it up again because it is important.”

The program would offer teen parents parenting classes and child care, in addition to their regular academic coursework.

Cooper has said the goal is to help teen parents graduate and prepare their children academically for kindergarten. The parents will graduate with a certificate that qualifies them to work in a child care center and sexual abstinence classes will also be part of the program, Cooper has said.