Lafayette School Board to consider budget options next week

The Lafayette Parish School Board plans to meet next week to discuss strategies to balance a shortfall estimated between $10.4 million to $15 million for the upcoming school year and discuss the financial impact from charter schools planned to open in the district during the next four years.

An estimated $6.9 million of the projected shortfall is tied to funding the school district may need to divert to the three new charter schools set to open in the parish in August, said Billy Guidry, the district’s chief financial officer. The $6.9 million is based on the three schools achieving 70 percent enrollment capacity, Guidry said.

The board starts its budget planning for the upcoming school year in April and next week’s special board meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, is designed to give the district’s budget planning staff an idea of funding strategies the board may be willing to support, Guidry said.

This school year, three charter schools open in the district and two more charter schools will open by the 2017-18 school year.

“We need to look at those four years because we want to get the board thinking now about some of the things we need to do down the road,” Guidry said. “It’s not enough to look at 2014-15, we need to look at that entire four year span of time. Each year, the numbers are significant.”

At the board’s Feb. 19 meeting, it discussed proposals such as earmarking at least $2 million from a dedicated tax fund to retain counseling and some teaching positions in the upcoming school year and a policy change to reduce its rainy day fund from three months of operating expenses or roughly $60 million to two months of operating expenses or about $40 million. After being presented the proposals, board member Tehmi Chassion asked Superintendent Pat Cooper if he considered the financial impact the charter schools would have on the district when he voiced his support of them to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in October. The board had rejected the charter schools’ applications, opening the door for them to apply to BESE to open the schools.

Cooper said BESE was going to approve the charter school applications regardless of his endorsement, but he felt it was a better decision to support them in the spirit of cooperation.

“I still think it’s a good move because we’re going to have plenty of room for our students and it takes pressure off of us in building facilities,” Cooper replied.

The board didn’t make any decisions on the proposals, but they’ll be on the table for discussion at the upcoming special board meeting.

“What I’m trying to determine is whether or not they’re going to allow use of the fund balance and use of that 2002 sales tax fund,” Guidry said. “Ultimately, the first year we can offset that $10.4 million with those two line items.”

The charter schools are eligible to receive a share of the district’s per pupil state funding, as well as a portion of the taxes the district collects. Some of those taxes are dedicated, meaning the district is required to use them for purposes approved by voters. Earlier this month, Guidry asked for legislators help with legislation that would either require the charter schools to use the tax revenue for its dedicated purposes, such as for teacher salary supplements, or allow the dedicated funds to remain with the school district for the dedicated purposes. Otherwise, the district faces an estimated $4.5 million loss in the dedicated revenue and will have to cover the amount from its general fund, Guidry explained.

Guidry said the shortfall is estimated at $10.4 million, if the board opts not to fund the district’s turnaround plan, a six-year plan the board approved in 2012. With the turnaround plan expenses, the shortfall estimate tips toward the $15 million.