LAFAYETTE — A divided Lafayette Parish School Board failed to approve the district’s nearly $409 million unified budget Wednesday after some board members objected to using funds dedicated for teacher raises and about $4.2 million in rainy day funds to balance its budget.
The district’s not budgeting within its means “when we’re using money from a tax to pay our teachers to support the general fund,” board member Greg Awbrey said.
The nine-member board voted 5-4 to reject the budget as presented at a special board meeting Wednesday.
Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted against approving the budget; Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb, and Hunter Beasley voted in support of the final budget.
The school system’s chief financial officer Billy Guidry said the board will meet soon in another workshop to try to tackle the issues.
The state requires the system to approve a spending plan by Sept. 15, but Guidry said the board traditionally has approved its budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
On Wednesday, board members debated the use of about $1.6 million from its 2002 half-cent sales tax fund to use toward $2 million budgeted for appeals principals may make to lower class sizes below the district’s set pupil-teacher ratios. The principals will have an opportunity to make their case to the administration as to why some schools or programs require smaller class sizes to be successful.
Initially, money was budgeted for the appeals in the general fund, which includes the bulk of the district’s spending on such things as salaries, instructional and operational costs. The final spending plan moved the expense for appeals to the 2002 half-cent sales tax fund, which has been used for teacher pay raises.
Class sizes should be reduced through the general fund “not on the backs of our teachers who should be getting that money,” Awbrey said.
Karen Martin, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators, asked the board to reconsider using the dedicated tax to pay for the appeals. She said her organization and teachers across the district have had a say in the past in how money in the fund has been used but did not have that opportunity this year.
Board members also questioned the use of the rainy day or reserve fund to balance the budget. About $60 million is in the reserve account, Guidry said, and at least $54 million of that is unrestricted for use.
In 2010-11, about $5 million was taken from the reserve fund to balance what was left of an initially estimated $15 million deficit due to large increases in mandated retirement contributions and other unfunded state mandates, Guidry said. The district ended that same year with a $3 million surplus, he noted.
Superintendent Pat Cooper said the budget also offers conservative revenue projections for sales taxes in the coming year and anticipated Medicaid reimbursements related to health and wellness services the district will provide in the coming school year.
Cooper told the board the budget includes initiatives to help principals and teachers respond to state mandates and the district turnaround plan, which mandates principals improve their state accountability letter grades by one level within a two-year period. Cooper’s plan also is designed to move the district from a C district to an A district over the next six years.
“You can’t get to be an A district with the same funding patterns,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to change the norm. We’re trying to show people this is what it could be like.”