East Baton Rouge schools to review plans in August
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Monday unanimously approved a $410 million general operating budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but plans to revisit its spending plans in August once it knows how many students transfer to private and other public schools.
The budget approved Monday contains a 1.8 percent reduction in spending from 2011-12, while revenue is expected to increase 2.1 percent to $405.1 million.
The general fund budget, one of many the school system maintains, is by far the biggest, representing about two-thirds of spending and revenue. Thanks to a small surplus left over from the current fiscal year, the school system hopes to end 2012-13 with $6.4 million in unassigned reserves in its general fund.
This marks the fourth consecutive year of budget cuts.
The cuts have been sparked by flat state funding for education, cost-shifting to locals of items such as pensions and private school transportation, slow growth in local tax revenue, and growing spending on programs and services, including new charter schools.
Nevertheless, recent cutbacks have yet to bring spending and revenue in line. The approved budget calls for spending $4.8 million more than the school system expects to take in during 2012-13.
To keep the system in the black, the School Board in May approved $28.4 million in cutbacks that will mean about 221 fewer job positions. While no one is being laid off, some will be moved to different positions within the school system.
The cuts include closing EBR Lab School, merging Northdale Academy and EBR Acceleration Academy, changing start times for parochial schools and the freezing employee salaries at current levels. Proposals to trim life insurance payouts for retirees and to close Polk Elementary were postponed.
The only new cutback since the board’s vote in May is a $1.9 million savings from forgoing bus purchases in 2012-13.
The main wildcard in the budget is a newly created private school voucher program that will decrease school system revenue with uncertain savings in expenses.
Sixteen private schools in Baton Rouge have set aside a total of 861 slots for voucher children. The seats can be filled by students who are in public schools with grades of C, D or F. Most public schools in Baton Rouge have those grades.
If all the slots are filled with East Baton Rouge Parish schoolchildren, and the students take with them the maximum voucher amount — roughly $8,700 a child in Baton Rouge — that would mean a loss of $7.5 million in revenue.
The state has estimated that vouchers should cost the system less than the maximum amount, noting that the average tuition for the private schools in Louisiana offering seats is $6,100 a year. The vouchers, however, pay for more than just tuition, and leaders of several private schools have said they plan to seek additional money for various fees.
The school system has not estimated what it expects to save in expenses by having some students at lower-performing schools transferring to private schools.
School officials have long argued that students who exercise school choice options such as charter schools, and now vouchers, take with them far more money than the school system saves in not having to educate those children.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, told the board on Monday that the school system should know the impact of the vouchers by late July.
The budget-cutting process is expected to continue in the future. The school system is estimating cuts of $15 million, $14 million and $11 million will be necessary for each of the following fiscal years.