Supervisors to make pitch to Lafayette School Board to keep funds for programs

The needle on the Lafayette Parish School Board’s shortfall is stuck at $7.2 million until the board’s next meeting on July 29 when instructional supervisors have a chance to try to undo the blanket cuts the board made last week to dozens of departments.

On July 15, the board approved cuts to instructional departments in a single vote with the idea that supervisors would have a chance to explain the expenses — and fight to have them reinstated — at a later meeting. A tally of those cuts hasn’t been calculated to offset the shortfall because changes are expected during the board’s July 29 meeting, Matt Dugas, the district’s finance director, said Monday.

“We don’t consider those cuts as part of offsetting the deficit yet,” Dugas said. “Those cuts were made with the caveat that supervisors would get to make appeals. Some of (the cuts) will need to be reconsidered because there are some things in there that we’re going to need to open school.”

Students return to class on Aug. 12, and the board has rejected or deferred some requests for instructional materials for classroom teachers and other expenses, pending the completion of the budget review process. Until last week, the board approved cuts in a tedious account-by-account review. To expedite the process, the board opted on July 15 to approve all proposed cuts for dozens of accounts but informed supervisors they’d get an opportunity to make appeals for their departments.

During the budget process, some board members have said their strategy is to balance the budget first then reconsider cuts on a case-by-case basis, so it’s unclear whether some of the cuts will stick.

Some cuts involve reducing or eliminating contracted services in departments, money for staff to attend conferences and workshops, and supplies.

Board member Mark Allen Babineaux had suggested wiping out all the money allocated for those line items. In later board meetings, however, he clarified his intention was to discuss those expenses rather than eliminate entire line items. Even so, board members approved the majority of his suggestions.

In the July 17 budget meeting, the board deferred decisions on construction project funds to leave the door open to pull money from those accounts to plug any remaining holes in the general fund shortfall, which began at $23.5 million.

In the past few weeks, the board has cut more than $15 million to offset its funding gap.

Ideally, the board approves its budget annually before the end of the fiscal year — June 30 — though last year, the process was delayed as the district was faced with a larger shortfall of about $12 million. By this time last year, the board had approved a final budget draft for staff to prepare for public review. This year, that public inspection period is tentatively set for Aug. 11-22. A public hearing and special meeting for final adoption of the budget is scheduled for Aug. 27.

If the 2014-15 budget isn’t finalized by Sept. 15, the district’s bond rating could be negatively affected, meaning a higher interest rate on any future bond sales, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said last week.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.