Cooper: ‘We are in dire straits’
LAFAYETTE — School Superintendent Pat Cooper on Thursday asked the School Board to consider using rainy day savings and money set aside for teacher bonuses to prevent drastic budget cuts that would eliminate some 300 positions, including teachers, counselors and administrators.
The board is facing a $23.5 million shortfall in a $272 million operating budget, and some cuts are inevitable, regardless of whether the rainy day and bonus money is used.
The board on June 5 had already rejected an earlier version of Cooper’s plan, but he returned Thursday to urge the proposal again, laying out a dire alternative budget with deep cuts he said would need to be made if the budget holes weren’t plugged.
“This budget does not represent scare tactics, but, in truth, we should all be scared if we are concerned about the future of Lafayette,” Cooper said.
He said the cuts would be “devastating for our school system” and be a “sure-fire recipe for failure.”
The board was not scheduled to take any action on the budget Thursday and was still working through a presentation on budget figures as of 9:15 p.m.
Cooper’s proposal calls for $10 million in cuts at the central office, $6 million to $10 million from a 2002 sales tax fund used for teacher bonuses and $4 million to $8 million from the rainy day fund, money built up in past years to cover emergencies.
The school system has about $68 million in rainy day funds, which are held to cover school system expenses during major economic downturns or for emergencies.
Board members were still discussing their own proposed cuts as of 9:15 p.m., including cutting legal fees and more expenses for the board and for the superintendent, such as travel reimbursements.
The discussed cuts were generally in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and together would not come close to bridging the $23.5 million budget gap.
After hearing from audience members who spoke against any cuts to staff and certain special programs, board member Rae Trahan, though not supportive of Cooper’s plan, offered a blunt assessment: “The cuts are going to be deep. They are going to hurt.”
Cooper said that regardless of what the board does with the 2014-15 budget, shortfalls are expected to be routine in the coming years, and the $10 million in central office cuts won’t be available in future years because that area of the budget will be “bare-boned.”
“I don’t think any of this stuff can be sugar-coated. We are in dire straits,” Cooper said.
He said a new tax will be needed to sustain a quality school system.
“Above all, we know that additional revenue will have to come from the taxpayers of this parish,” Cooper said. “… No one wants to hear the tax word, but the facts speak for themselves. A school district our size, with facilities that are very aged, and increasing expenses over which we have no control, requires adequate tax dollars.”
The board is scheduled to make a final vote on the budget in August.
Nearly half the shortfall for the school system, about $12 million, is due to a drop in revenue from per-pupil state funds, money that is following students who choose to attend new charter schools opening next year in the parish.