Iberia school system facing possible deficit

The Iberia Parish school system may soon be operating in the red if sales tax revenues do not show a sharp upswing in the next few months, School Board members were told Wednesday.

“I think the School Board, in August, will adopt a budget that will remain in deficit for 2013-2014,” Superintendent Dale Henderson said during the board’s regular meeting Wednesday night.

“We’ve had some tough times,” Henderson told board members. “We’re going to be as frugal as we can, but I’m not optimistic.”

The board’s annual budget is based on revenues from the previous year, and board sales tax collections for the month of February of 2013 are down 11.3 percent from what was collected the same month a year ago, records show.

“The economy was just a little more robust then,” Henderson said.

Henderson said local consumers will have to do some serious spending in order to meet the projected revenue for the month of March.

“It’s been on a downward trend for three or four months now. I’m talking about you need to go out and buy some Buicks,” Henderson joked.

The fiscal crunch comes as the board eyes a looming increase in the cost of employee health care, a 2.5 percent increase in the employer’s share of retirement funding, and the cost of preparing for new required student testing slated to take effect next school year.

The board had created a budget based on a projected 5 percent increase in sales tax revenue from the previous year, but has only seen a 2.1 percent increase so far. Henderson said that falls well short of generating the revenue needed to keep pace with increasing costs.

“These increases are in the millions of dollars,” Henderson said. “You can’t keep having the same amount of money and keep increasing your expenses. What the future holds as far as that is concerned is really unknown.”

The money needed to cover budget shortfalls will come out of the board’s fund balance.

“You’ll be kept in the loop every step of the way,” Henderson promised board members.

The board meeting was held in the newly renovated Jeanerette Senior High School following a tour of the school grounds.

“We’re really enjoying our new space,” said Jeanerette Senior High School Principal Heath Hulin. “It’s safer for us and the students.”

The renovations included switching the locations of the guidance counselor’s office, which was right at the front door of the school, and the administrative office, which was almost halfway down the hall. A second set of doors was added, and visitors must be buzzed in and pass through the office area.

“We have invested millions of dollars in the kind of work you see here,” Henderson said.