EBR School Board expects more cuts

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system estimates it will need to cut at least $30 million from its general operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year and at least $24 million more over the next two fiscal years.

Chief Business Operations Officer Catherine Fletcher relayed the estimate to the School Board, meeting as a Committee of the Whole but not voting, Thursday night. The estimate capped off a gloomy presentation where Fletcher laid out more than 20 different financial challenges the district faces in the years to come.

Some of the biggest money drains stem from the declining enrollment spurred by new publicly funded educational choices, increasing employer share of state teacher pension costs, inflation, costs of complying with new federal health care laws, and cuts if the federal government’s sequestration that went into effect last week continues.

Fletcher highlighted 10 adverse changes just from the state’s per pupil funding formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, that have accumulated over the past few years.

The Legislature, which once limited the MFP to traditional public school districts, is funding through the formula an increasing number of nontraditional entities, including charter schools, publicly funded vouchers for eligible students to attend private schools, schools run by the state Office of Juvenile Justice, virtual schools and special state-run schools.

A new change the state is considering would revamp how special education students are funded. Fletcher said her staff projected that change alone will cost the school system about $3.2 million in 2013-14. The School Board has not voted on its budget for the 2013-2014 school year.

To keep the school system in the black, the School Board will need to trim $30 million in spending on its general operating expenses for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Fletcher said.

The cuts would need to continue, with $15 million more in 2014-15 and $9 million in 2015-16.

Fletcher said an example of future expenses is the need to improve the system’s technology infrastructure to comply with new testing requirements that will take effect.

“I asked (Chief Technology Officer) Jesse Noble,” she said. “Just to begin doing this, he needs $7 million.”

In June, the School Board approved a $410 million general operating budget for the 2012-2013 school year that included $28 million in cuts in May. The general fund budget, one of many the school system maintains, is by far the biggest, representing about two-thirds of spending and revenue.

In a related matter Thursday, the board recommended approval of a new salary schedule for teachers and other educators with professional certificates. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith abstained. The board will take up the issue for a final vote at its March 21 meeting.

As part of Act 1 of the 2012 Legislature, all school districts in Louisiana have to revamp how they pay educators, supplanting traditional measures, such as experience and education level, in favor of how well they perform on a new evaluation system.

Personnel Director Millie Williams gave a presentation on the new salary schedule developed to comply with Act 1. The presentation is supposed be posted online Friday at http://www.ebrschools.org.

As with the current system, teachers under the new system would receive higher starting salaries if they have more education.

There would be four categories, those with just bachelor’s degrees, those with master’s degrees, specialists, and those with Ph.Ds. They would start earning $44,500; $45,700; $46,900 and $48,400, respectively. Those with master degrees plus 30 hours, now its own pay category, would be merged with those with master’s degree.

Unlike now, though, teachers would earn extra money as they advance in their careers if they receive good evaluations or if they teach in high needs areas or at an “at risk” school.

Board member Tarvald Smith asked whether the school system would revert to the current system if Act 1 is ultimately rule unconstitutional; a state district judge on Monday ruled the so-called tenure law unconstitutional but the ruling is expected to be appealed.

Domoine Rutledge, general counsel, urged the board for now to assume the law is valid.

“We should stay the course until there is a final determination by the (state) Supreme Court,” he said.