CLINTON — The East Feliciana Parish School Board should consider withholding a “13th check” from employees this summer to avoid wiping out the general fund’s small balance in the coming fiscal year, the board’s financial adviser said Tuesday.
Certified public accountant Tommy LeJeune said paying a salary supplement of about $600,000 as the fiscal year starts likely would deplete the general fund’s balance and bring increased scrutiny of the school system from the state Department of Education.
“It’s a tough decision, no doubt about it,” LeJeune told the board’s Finance Committee.
The School Board collects three taxes dedicated primarily to employee salaries and benefits:
- A 1-cent sales tax, of which 91 percent is dedicated to salaries and 9 percent for general operations.
- A 17-mill property tax for salaries and benefits.
- A second 1-cent sales tax, with at least half of the revenue dedicated to salaries and the remainder to general operations.
The board typically appropriates revenue that accumulates over a period of time to one-time salary supplements, such as a payment totaling more than $600,000 in January from property tax collections.
The Finance Committee and LeJeune have discussed using the dedicated tax revenue to pay for employees’ health insurance premiums and retirement costs, both of which have increased in recent years as state aid through the Minimum Foundation Program has been frozen for four consecutive years.
Board member Paul Kent criticized LeJeune for the proposals.
“All you see is money out there for employees; you don’t look for anything else,” Kent said, adding LeJeune has not made any suggestions for other budget cuts.
LeJeune, who said he is proposing the resolutions “to make your budget work,” told Kent that employee salaries and benefits make up 85 percent of the budget.
Kent interrupted LeJeune’s explanation, and the accountant let the matter drop.
LeJeune said “a legal concurrence” is needed before the board acts on the proposal, and he added copies of three proposed resolutions stating the board’s intent have been given to District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla for review.
The proposed resolutions note that health-care premiums and retirement contributions never have been counted against the tax revenue.
The resolutions, if adopted, state the board considers insurance premiums and retirement costs as “benefits” authorized by the election propositions.
The budget for the next fiscal year that LeJeune presented Tuesday includes a smaller 13th check, totaling $200,000, later in the school year, but the spending plan also anticipates employees giving up their annual step raises.
The board probably would not have to order a reduction-in-force or declare a financial emergency if no unexpected expenses pop up next year, LeJeune said.