$4.8 million drawn from rainy day fund
LAFAYETTE — After agreeing to draw $4.8 million from its rainy day fund, the Lafayette Parish School Board approved a $410 million budget for the upcoming school year Tuesday.
The special meeting was the board’s second attempt to approve its 2012-13 budget. Last week, the board rejected a proposed $409 million budget that would have used about $4.2 million from the rainy day fund.
Some board members echoed concerns Tuesday that they had last week over the impact on using the rainy day fund. But in a 4-3 vote, the board approved the budget.
Board members were also concerned about a proposal last week that would have taken $1.6 million from a fund dedicated to specific uses, including teacher pay raises and to reduce class sizes. The revision approved Tuesday took the $1.6 million from the general fund instead.
Board member Mark Allen Babineaux, who rejected the budget plan both last week and Tuesday, proposed cutting $3.7 million from the general fund that would pay for initiatives recommended by task force groups of community members and school system employees.
The task force recommendations are part of Superintendent Pat Cooper’s district turnaround plan to improve the district’s state grade from a C to an A in the next six years.
The initiatives should be funded as money becomes available from additional sales tax collections or other revenues that have been underestimated in the proposed budget plan, Babineaux said.
The board took no action on Babineaux’s proposal.
Board members Rae Trahan and Greg Awbrey repeated their votes last week when they voted against the budget again on Tuesday.
Trahan said she worried about the district’s ability to sustain the task force’s initiatives along with the future impact the new programs would have on the reserve fund.
“I can’t support a budget digging in this deep,” Trahan said. “That vote is not a vote ‘no’ for change. That is not a vote at all in that direction, but a vote to not dig into our reserves as deeply as this budget is showing to do.”
Babineaux also questioned why district spending increased about $30 million compared to last year.
Billy Guidry, district chief financial officer, explained that overall spending has increased by $30 million, but that includes all the district’s budgets such as its capital funds, which were boosted by a federal stimulus construction bond program.
Spending in the general fund, which includes instructional and salary costs, only increased by about $8 million compared to last year, Guidry said.
The district still has a “healthy reserve” fund and the budget enables the district to implement a turnaround plan that is “well-grounded in research,” said board member Hunter Beasley.
Board President Shelton Cobb attempted to end the hour-long debate with the question: “Do we want to remain the same or do something different?”
“If we want to approve the superintendent’s program, give him an opportunity to show whether he can do what he said he can do or not,” Cobb said. “Why do we keep standing in the way?”
Beasley, Cobb, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion voted in support of the budget plan. Board members Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion were absent. Both men had voted against the budget plan submitted last week.