Cooper: Despite roadblocks, work continues to keep revenue in school district

Board seeks to keep dedicated funds

Legislation to ensure the Lafayette Parish School System retains about $2.3 million in tax revenue dedicated for debt service and teacher salaries that charter schools are eligible to receive died this legislative session; however, there’s still a shot that the money can stay with the district, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Tuesday.

A bill proposed by state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, would have exempted dedicated tax revenues from being shared with the new charter schools and passed in the Senate, but wasn’t assigned to the House Education committee until May 30 — one business day before the session ended on Monday.

Cooper said the district plans to work out the issue with the Louisiana Department of Education.

“The department has talked to us, and they think we can do something,” Cooper said. “Senator Cortez was helpful, but we kept running into roadblocks and ran out of time.”

It’s unclear whether a resolution will be reached this year. Cortez drafted a resolution asking the Louisiana Department of Education and the local school system to study the issue and file a report at least 60 days before the start of the 2015 legislative session.

“Senator Cortez passed a resolution urging that the Department and Lafayette School Board examine the issue. We look forward to doing so,” said Barry Landry, an education department spokesman, in an email response.

Charter schools are public schools, though they’re overseen by independent school boards and in the case of the Lafayette Parish charter schools, they’re managed by for-profit companies. As a public school, charters are eligible to receive state per-pupil funding, as well as a portion of local tax revenues. Some taxes in Lafayette Parish are dedicated for debt service and teacher salaries.

Payment of the dedicated taxes creates a double financial blow for the district. The revenues are earmarked for specific uses, so once the money is shared with the charter school, the district must replace the funding to ensure the dedications are upheld.

In a May 27 budget workshop with the School Board, district Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said the district could lose about $2.3 million in dedicated taxes, based on a rough estimate of 1,000 Lafayette Parish students enrolling in the three charter schools that will open in the parish in August.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.