With a tight budget, St. Landry school officials keeping an eye on enrollment

A 2014-15 general fund budget approved unanimously by the St. Landry Parish School Board indicates the district is continuing to recover from the financial difficulties it experienced two years ago, but officials need to continue watching its finances, the system’s financial director said Thursday.

And the heart of the matter may be how many students are enrolled in the parish school system.

According to the budget document, the district is scheduled to receive a $1.75 million increase in per-pupil state Minimum Funding Program funds for the fiscal year that began July 1.

But that amount could decrease by an estimated $460,000 depending on how many students the district loses to charter schools.

An initial enrollment count of 14,507 students is about 240 fewer than last school year, but Superintendent Edward Brown insists enrollment has risen sharply since the school session began Aug. 13.

“That amount (the 240 student decrease) has dropped tremendously,” Brown said. “I am confident we will see that number rise as the school year continues.”

The MFP formula is based on an enrollment count taken in October.

Meanwhile, Finance Director Tressa Miller said after the board meeting that the $378,763 general fund surplus in this year’s budget shows the system’s finances remain tight.

But, the district will have additional expenses for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Miller said those include the hiring of 17 permanent bus drivers at a cost of $285,000; a $500,000 increase in retirement benefits paid by the board; the purchase of 35 new school buses for about $540,000; and a $40,000 increase in employee travel expenses after the board approved a mileage rate increase.

Miller said, however, that the district’s overall financial situation is improving due to careful spending practices put in place after she projected a $4 million general fund deficit in the middle of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“We have a pretty tight budget, and over the past several years, we have been very careful not to overspend or over hire,” she said. “You could call this (2014-15) budget very tight. It’s also a budget we are happy about, considering where we were several years ago.”