School budget shortfall jumps to about $18.5 million

The Lafayette Parish School Board reviewed plans Tuesday to fill a more than $18 million shortfall ­— the largest funding gap in years.

The district hasn’t dealt with a shortfall that large since 2010, and in the proceeding years has had to make cuts to balance budget gaps, the school system’s Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry told board members Tuesday during a workshop on the general fund.

“We’ve been making cuts, and we’ve been fortunate for the most part whereby we were able to limit a lot of it to the administrative level,” Guidry said. “We’re at a point now where we’re in (the) fifth year of these types of cuts.”

The board made no decisions during the budget workshop, which is an opportunity for members to review proposed spending plans.

On Tuesday, Guidry presented two options for the board to consider.

One budget option uses a larger portion of the board’s reserve or rainy day fund — $10.8 million ­— and pay for teacher and administrative staff appeals out of the 2002 teacher sales tax rather than the general fund.

The second version uses no rainy day funds and includes cuts not in the first version, such as the elimination of the school resource officer program and team teaching at middle schools and cuts to staffing at the district’s second-chance school, NP Moss Preparatory. The second version also includes the elimination of the district’s instructional strategist at a savings of $2.8 million and adding two students in both special education and regular education classrooms for a total savings of about $3.3 million.

In a letter to board members sent Monday, Superintendent Pat Cooper asked the board to consider using the fund balance to offset the shortfall to reduce the impact on district operations. The board didn’t inform Guidry whether it would support using the fund balance during the meeting.

A major hit to the budget — $12 million — is due to the state per pupil funding that will follow Lafayette Parish students who will attend other schools.

The majority will go to three new charter schools that will open, as well as to other schools in the state.

The board will receive about $115 million in state per pupil funding, and the majority of the nearly $12 million will transfer to the three new charter schools that will open in the parish in August, Guidry said. A smaller portion follows students who attend other schools, such as online charters, the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, or Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice programs, Guidry said.

Neither version is absent of proposed cuts. Both versions propose some of the same cuts, such as about $447,000, or a 25 percent decrease, in the per student allocations that local schools receive. The decrease means elementary schools would receive $43 per student instead of $57.50. The change for middle schools is $60.50 to $45.25 and for high schools is $61.50 to $46.

Board member Rae Trahan questioned the impact of the reduction, especially for a large school like Lafayette High, where more than 2,000 students are enrolled.

Guidry said schools typically use the per pupil allocations for supplies and technology. He said a review of all schools’ unused per pupil allocations showed schools had not spent a total of about $575,000 as of the end of March.

“It’s not to say that every school didn’t spend their allocation,” he said. “We looked at it in total.”

Both versions also include about $10 million in cuts to teacher assistant, teacher, counselor and assistant principal positions. However, only the first version allows for funding for administrators’ staffing appeals to fill some of those positions by using the 2002 sales tax fund rather than the general fund. The second version reduces the amount of appeals for teacher positions with the funding coming out of the general fund instead of the sales tax fund. The second version also does not include other staffing appeals for counselors and assistant principals.

Both proposed versions pay for 24 additional alternative education teacher positions from the 2002 sales tax fund instead of the general fund to lower the student-teacher ratio of overage students to 15 to 1 at a cost of $1.5 million.

The board plans to next meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to continue the budget discussion. That workshop date was optional; however, board member Greg Awbrey proposed they meet to allow time to consider the proposed budgets and return with their own suggestions for balancing the budget.

“There are some things we’re willing to let go of but others maybe we aren’t,” Awbrey said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.