Lafayette board narrowly approves school spending plan

The Lafayette Parish School Board narrowly approved a proposed $256 million spending plan Tuesday for the 2013-14 school year that offers a $3,979 surplus.

The vote came after about an hour of discussion over the budget for salaries and instructional costs and possible spending adjustments to protect classroom teacher spots.

Before voting in support of the spending plan for its $256 million general fund, board member Hunter Beasley asked for an assurance that the board could still adjust the budget before final adoption.

Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said the board’s vote Tuesday enables staff to compile a proposed budget to present to the public that will be considered again by the board next month for final adoption.

Beasley, Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb voted in favor of the proposed general fund budget, while Mark Allen Babineaux and Rae Trahan voted against. Board member Greg Awbrey was not present for the vote, but did attend the meeting for about three hours Tuesday.

Although it began its budget review in April, the Lafayette Parish School Board is still without a complete approved unified budget for its $654 million in proposed spending for the upcoming school year.

The board ended its meeting Tuesday without approving one of 12 proposed accounts, the capital improvement fund. The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to again review that fund.

The board in a 3-3 vote Tuesday board rejected the proposed capital improvement fund that included nearly $12 million in school projects after debating the spending of $100,000 to renovate portable buildings for a teen parenting center at Northside High School.

Board members Cobb, Beasley and Bouillion voted to support the spending proposals; board members Awbrey, Babineaux and Trahan against. Board members Mark Cockerham, Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion were absent.

Staff scaled back the teen parenting program after board members rejected an initially proposed $205,000 expense to renovate two classroom buildings during a June 3 budget meeting. The $100,000 is enough to renovate one classroom building and serve 16 students and their children.

Awbrey questioned whether the program was ever approved by the board but Superintendent Pat Cooper said the program was in the approved school system turnaround plan.

Awbrey said at the time of the plan’s approval, members had been told that the programs in it and their associated costs would be brought to the board for approval prior to implementation.

In response to Awbrey calling the turnaround plan “vague,” Cooper shot back, “Not if you read it.”

In response to the heated spat, Trahan called for a more respectful tone in discussions among board and staff members.

Later, as the board reviewed the general fund, which includes daily operational expenses from salaries and instructional costs, board members debated ways to retain teacher positions and assistant principal positions proposed for elimination based on student enrollment projections and current staffing formulas.

Trahan proposed reducing some of the district’s nearly 30 social worker positions, whose salaries total about $567,000, to restore some teaching spots.

Babineaux pitched an idea of eliminating some instructional strategist jobs, salaries totaling about $2.8 million, to remove seven assistant principal positions from the chopping block. Babineaux said the administrator jobs are needed to help reduce discipline issues on campus.

Cooper defended the need for the instructional strategists, saying they work to help the district close the achievement gap among poor and minority students. The employees work with classroom teachers to improve instruction.

The board is “aiming at discriminating against those kids that need the most help” by targeting instructional strategists for cuts, Cooper said.

Initially, the staffing formula adjustment eliminated 83.5 teacher jobs for a projected savings of about $5.3 million. However, the district adjusted that about 44 positions for a savings of about $2.6 million. Based on the number of resignations and retirements, no teacher is expected to lose their job due to the staffing reduction.