Some Lafayette board members make budget cut suggestions

Proposals include cutting $2 million, entire departments

Some Lafayette Parish School Board members’ ideas for balancing the school system’s budget include cutting $2 million across departments and eliminating budgets for entire departments like mental health, community collaborations and health and wellness.

School Board members submitted their own proposals to chief financial officer Billy Guidry of where additional cuts could be made to help fill what was, at the time, an $18 million budget shortfall.

The general fund includes about $272 million of the district’s operational expenses. The general fund pays the district’s employee salaries and for district operations.

In the past two weeks, that shortfall has grown to about $22 million because of the board’s recent decision not to include about $1.5 million in projected tax revenue increases and the addition of several spending requests. The additional spending requests include about $1 million for low-performing schools.

The board began reviewing the proposed budget in April.

Board members suggested they could come up with ideas of their own, rather than consider some of the cuts proposed by the school system’s staff. The staff’s recommendations included eliminating school resource officers, team teaching and school positions.

The board decided at its June 5 meeting to cut 13 assistant principal positions that exceeded staffing ratios. Some board members said they weren’t opposed to the staffing level, but didn’t like the idea of using the system’s “rainy day” fund to pay for them. If the board doesn’t find a funding source for the positions, it will have to consider a reduction in force policy.

The board set another budget workshop for Thursday, but the meeting was delayed after the board rejected proposals last week to balance the budget using rainy day money and moving some salaries out of the general fund into a sales tax fund that is dedicated for teacher pay.

Only four board members submitted suggestions to Guidry: Shelton Cobb, board president Hunter Beasley, board vice president Tommy Angelle and Mark Allen Babineaux.

Babineaux suggested $11.9 million in possible cuts, including the elimination of the department of community collaborations and partnerships, ($384,262); the health and wellness department, ($343,348); and the mental health department, which includes 13 social workers, ($1 million).

Asked about eliminating entire departments, Babineaux said his list was merely a suggestion of where to find funds to ensure classrooms are kept insulated from budget cuts.

“We need to focus our attention and on what we need in the classroom,” Babineaux said. “Everything else in the system is a luxury.”

Other suggested cuts include cutting positions from N.P. Moss Preparatory School, the district’s alternative school, for a savings of about $195,391 or doing away with Moss completely for a $5 million savings.

Babineaux said he’d also like to cut all travel to conferences and workshops, for a savings of $492,375 — which doesn’t include School Board travel.

When asked why board travel wasn’t included in his recommended cut, Babineaux said that perhaps the board could look at that, too. The School Board’s account in the general fund totals about $179,000 of that $33,450 is for travel.

In his memo to Guidry with his proposed cuts, Babineaux blames the district’s turnaround plan, called 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out, with siphoning the district’s budget. He proposed eliminating any new positions added because of the plan.

The turnaround plan includes recommendations from community task force groups to help improve the district’s state accountability rating to an A. It’s currently a B — an accomplishment Babineaux said in his memo is due only to a change in the state’s way of rating districts.

The district’s health and wellness department is a part of the turnaround plan for the upcoming school year. The plan also calls for pulling out mental health professionals and putting them into their own department.

In a typed response to Babineaux’s suggestions, Superintendent Pat Cooper noted that the district has 79 fewer employees now as compared to January 2012, when Cooper took over as superintendent.

He disputed Babineaux’s assertions that the district hasn’t made progress.

“Some board members thoughtfully approached the task at hand, but these requests from Mr. Babineaux are absurd,” Cooper wrote. “I sincerely hope that we can keep personal animosity out of deciding what our children, teachers, and employees need and deserve.”

Board member Tommy Angelle told Guidry that he did not want any of the reserves to be used, but supported the use of surplus funds to restore a $1.5 million salary step increase for teachers, the school resource officer program and to retain the current student-teacher ratios.

System administrators had proposed increasing the student-teacher ratio for a savings of $2.73 million.

Beasley proposed a $2 million in cuts across the general fund. He said the cuts related to travel, conferences and workshops and supplies allocated to departments.

“Staff is putting too much on the schools and not looking at that central office,” Beasley said.

Rather than propose cuts, Cobb suggested the district use its reserve funds to address what he described as “devastating deficits and cuts that if made would derail efforts to continue system improvements already made.”

Guidry said he plans to meet again with supervisors to identify additional cuts. Another proposed budget could be presented to the board as soon as next week. No date has been set yet.