Few attend EBR school district’s ‘budget 101’

Two public forums Thursday that were set up to answer questions and explain the East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s 2012-13 budget had one element missing, the public.

Although there were about 30 people at the first meeting that started at 10 a.m., most of those were with the school system and were there to answer questions.

The second meeting at 6 p.m. was a repeat of the morning session with about seven people showing up.

The forums were set up to provide basic information about how the school system prepares its budget and to answer any other questions people may have had about the 2012-13 budget now under
consideration by the School Board.

“Some of the questions I received through email were so puzzling,” Superintendent Bernard Taylor said.

He decided to set the forums to help educate people about the budget and to help people wade through items they found confusing.

A large amount of the budget the school system has to work with is tied up in fixed costs of salaries, benefits, insurance, building maintenance and state-mandated programs, said Catherine Fletcher, chief business operation officer.

In addition, Taylor said, the school system is facing declining revenues as charter schools and other alternative schools open, while the costs of implementing new programs and keeping the school system moving forward continue to go up.

That means tough and sometimes unpopular choices need to be made, he said.

“Are we going to make everybody happy in the budget process? Absolutely not,” Taylor said.

Rachel Morton, a teacher at Woodlawn High School and one of several educators at the morning session, asked about teachers’ salaries, which have been frozen for three years.

“As teachers, we’re kind of frustrated,” she said.

Taylor said a proposal for pay increases is being sent to teachers’ associations for discussion.

The district learned recently that it’s getting an additional $9 million because of recent court and legislative actions, and about half of that money is expected to be used for pay raises for teachers and other certified employees.

“Because we’re losing so much off the top, we’re feeding on ourselves,” Taylor said, referring to money the district used to get but that now goes to charter schools.

The types of budget discussions the district is experiencing this year will continue if a more equitable way to administer school choice isn’t found, he said.

“I believe there is a way to look at choice so you don’t create winners and losers,” Taylor said. “(Now) financially, we are definitely the losers.”