Lafayette SB still struggling over budget cuts

The Lafayette Parish School Board on Wednesday resumed its attempt to identify more than $22 million in cuts to balance the district’s $270 million operations budget.

Last week, the general fund shortfall totaled about $23.5 million, but in six-hour meetings held June 26 and on Monday, the board cobbled together $997,565 in approved cuts, according to information provided by chief financial officer Billy Guidry.

The budget review process has been a slow one and Wednesday’s meeting began close to 8 p.m., following the board’s regular board meeting.

About 45 minutes into the meeting, the board approved about $48,000 in cuts. The biggest chunk — about $47,000 — eliminated a Medicaid processing clerk position that is currently unfilled.

Board members Kermit Bouillion, Mark Cockerham and Shelton Cobb voted against the cuts. Board members Hunter Beasley, Mark Babineaux, Rae Trahan and Tommy Angelle voted in support of the cuts. Board members Tehmi Chassion and Greg Awbrey were absent.

The board also discussed a blanket cut to all mileage and cellphone reimbursements, but tabled the idea. Guidry suggested the board allow him time to calculate the budget impact of the decision.

Superintendent Pat Cooper asked the board not to make blanket cuts and to consider the impact it could have on students, especially poor students served by itinerant teachers.

The board needs to make some allowances for those employees who drive across the district visiting schools or students as part of their job, board president Beasley said.

Just before 9 p.m., Babineaux suggested the board adjourn and renew its review on Thursday.

Some of the decisions the board is expected to tackle include reducing or eliminating support positions such as counselors, assistant principals and instructional strategists who work as coaches with teachers on lessons. Increasing class sizes by as many as two to three students is also on the table as a cost-savings option.

Larger class sizes would set schools up for failure, L.J. Alleman Middle School principal Kathy Aloisio told the board.

“All data supports the lower the class size, the better the performance,” Aloisio said.

J. Wallace James Elementary principal Dana Schmersahl asked the board not to neglect those schools, like hers, that help the district maintain its B letter grade in the state’s accountability system.

A request to maintain support personnel such as instructional strategists and to lower class sizes at the district’s 10 D schools and single F school, J.W. Faulk Elementary, is included in the proposed budget.

“We do not want to take that from them, but do realize that it takes three to five years to show growth at these schools that are at the bottom,” Schmersahl said.

She said the board could vote to strip her school with its additional resources from librarians to physical education teachers “and I can run a skeleton staff, but I would plummet in one year. If all our A, B and C schools did that, where would our district be?”

The board continues its budget discussion at 5 p.m. Thursday and again at 5 p.m. Tuesday. On Thursday, the board is expected to discuss nearly $17 million in expenses Trahan tagged for potential cuts. Cooper said he thinks some of the cuts will work out while others may need to be reconsidered. He said he’ll present a list that includes Trahan’s proposed cuts and other suggestions at Thursday’s meeting.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.