Surplus expected in Ascension schools budget

For the second consecutive year, the Ascension Parish School Board will work with a surplus budget.

Board members on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2013-14 budget that features $201 million in general fund revenues — an increase of nearly $7 million from last year.

The anticipated general fund revenue exceeds expenses by approximately $600,000. In a budget of more than $200 million, however, that’s essentially a “breakeven budget,” said Diane Allison, the school district’s director of business services.

The board’s fund balance is expected to stay around $82.5 million after next year. In six of the last eight years, the board has faced budget shortfalls.

All of the board’s budgets combine to equal roughly $263 million, including $24.8 million in capital projects and $14.5 million in debt service payments.

The board is making several significant investments, including the hiring of 50 new teachers at a cost of roughly $7 million, to help keep up with student population growth and decrease the teacher-student ratio in the parish school system.

In addition, approximately $2.8 million in major campus maintenance projects are scheduled to be completed, and the district will spend $1.8 million to expand its one-to-one technology program, placing laptops or Apple iPads in the hands of about 5,000 additional students.

School Board President Troy Gautreau said the board remains determined to put resources at the disposal of both teachers and students.

“If you look at any company and see where they’re spending their money, that’s what they value,” Gautreau said.

Allison said due to the decline in grants available to the district, approximately $650,000 in salaries that have been paid previously by federal funds now will be allocated from the district’s general fund.

Allison also said the district will see an increase of about $2.2 million in state funding after the Louisiana Legislature’s last-minute grant of $69 million to public schools as part of a state budget deal. Half of that money will go toward one-time teacher pay raises, while the remainder can be used at the board’s discretion.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol said the board will need to make decisions about how and when to disburse that money, and if the pay raises will extend beyond classroom teachers to include school administrators and Central Office personnel.