Lafayette School Board making slow progress on budget

Additional meetings set at month’s end

The Lafayette Parish School Board met Thursday night to take another slow step forward in its budget review process by approving seven of its 10 smaller funds related to construction, food services and the grant money it receives.

The approvals are needed for staff to begin creating a final draft of the budget for the public to review before a hearing and special meeting next month for final adoption.

There’s still more work ahead before the board gets to that final draft, though. The board will meet again July 29 to give central office supervisors a chance to make budgetary appeals of line items the board cut in its July 15 meeting. More budget meetings are planned on July 31 and Aug. 2 with a public hearing and final adoption tentatively set for Aug. 27.

Board member Tehmi Chassion questioned the 12-day gap between meetings. Board President Hunter Beasley said the time is needed for staff to accumulate board cut suggestions and allow time for supervisors to prepare to defend expenses.

The board first reviewed the smaller accounts in April and few — if any — changes have been made to the accounts since then, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said. He said the accounts are being presented to the board a second time to give members another chance to ask questions.

Board member Rae Trahan asked the board to defer a decision on the special revenue fund, which includes $23.7 million in federal, state and other grants. Trahan said she wants more time to study the fund because it includes information she didn’t have a chance to review yet.

Beasley asked whether waiting until the board’s July 24 budget meeting would affect preparations to start school. The fiscal year ended June 30, and the board previously gave the go-ahead for staff to proceed with normal operations without final budget approval.

Guidry said directors were told to continue preparations and “at no time should they hold off on something that should impede the start of school.”

Trahan questioned several expenses in some funds — such as the need for additional excavators — and proposed deferring approval until the board completes its general fund review. Last year, the board transferred money — as much as $4 million from its capital fund budget — to balance a shortfall.

Facilities Planning Director Kyle Bordelon cautioned the board about taking money from the capital projects fund because it’s one-time money.

After another suggestion to delay a decision, board member Kermit Bouillion expressed frustration with his fellow board members.

“We delay everything. It seems that we would have these budget meetings to vote yes or no, but surely not to delay. We’re at the end of July. It’s a futile process.”

Since the budget process began in April, the board has chipped away at a $23.5 million shortfall and cut more than $13 million from the general fund.

The board approved a construction budget for projects funded with a $30 million bond sale, including a nearly $4 million construction of a new cafeteria and other renovations at L.J. Alleman Middle School. At least $1.2 million in the account’s contingency fund is needed to complete the project, and the board on Wednesday deferred approval of awarding a contract for construction at Alleman.

The board’s review of the account Thursday showed that a little more than $1 million was left in the contingency fund.

Guidry explained that the account was created in March and had not been updated to reflect that $1.6 million is still available for contingencies. He said the amount had changed because several projects in the account either have been completed or are underway, bumping up the amount available in the contingency. If $1.2 million from the contingency is used, it would leave about $478,000 in contingency for the other projects, which is sufficient because no major change orders are expected on the other projects, Bordelon said.

“You’re saying no general fund money will be needed to rescue this?” Trahan asked.

“That is correct,” Bordelon said.

The board also approved: Quality School Construction Bond 2012 Capital Projects ($131,150); Debt Service ($23.2 million); Sales Tax Fund ($233 million); Child Nutrition ($15.5 million); 2002 Half-Cent Sales Tax ($18.6 million); Group Insurance ($46.7 million).

Nongeneral funds awaiting approval: Special Revenue ($23.7 million); Capital Improvements ($13 million); Self-funded Construction ($12.8 million).

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.