Lafayette School Board budget talks to continue

The Lafayette Parish School Board likely won’t have an approved budget in time for the start of the new fiscal year July 1 after it halted its second attempt Monday to approve a proposed $256 million general fund budget for the upcoming school year, Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said Tuesday.

After more than three hours into Monday night’s special budget meeting, board member Mark Cockerham suggested the board defer the discussion until another meeting. District staff proposed Tuesday that the next meeting should occur at 5:30 p.m. June 18.

Guidry said he will ask the board Wednesday for its approval to continue “ongoing and normal expenditures” until final budget adoption, which is tentatively set for a special meeting on July 17.

The board originally had scheduled final budget adoption on June 19, following a public inspection period from June 6 through June 19.

The board started its budget review process in April with an estimated $12 million shortfall that over the past few weeks was cut until Monday’s proposed revisions that provided a nearly $136,000 surplus.

The general fund budget is part of the district’s $655 million unified budget. About $56 million of the board’s $69 million reserve isn’t earmarked for other uses.

Although school district staff offered the board a balanced spending plan Monday with the surplus, board members questioned big-ticket reductions such as the $5.3 million cut of 83 teaching positions.

Guidry said the money is no longer based on projected staffing needs for the upcoming school year and the current student-teacher ratios set at 23 students per teacher at elementary schools and 28 students per teacher at middle and high schools.

“They’re being cut because they’re over and above the student-teacher ratio,” Guidry said Tuesday.

The general fund still includes funding for 41 additional teaching positions estimated at $2.6 million should principals need to hire more teachers to help balance out class sizes, he said.

During Monday’s meeting, board members weighed the costs and benefits of maintaining the 83 teacher positions versus funding nearly $2.8 million in salaries for more than 30 instructional strategists who assist classroom teachers with curriculum and planning needs. The positions previously were funded by federal Title I money for high-poverty schools, but due to the reduction of federal funding, the salaries were moved to the general fund.

“We’ve got to keep the teachers who teach the kids on a day-to-day basis; we can’t let kids suffer,” board member Tehmi Chassion said at Monday’s meeting.

Chassion requested more information on school-by-school impact related to the staffing estimate.

On Tuesday, Guidry said no job losses were expected, but he said he’s awaiting updated information on the total retirements and resignations in the past school year.

“At this point, it would appear that there’s enough retirements and people exiting to cover it,” Guidry said.

Bruce Leninger, the district’s human resources director, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

On Monday, board members also questioned the loss of seven assistant principal positions and 21/2 counselors for a savings of $995,000, citing the need to keep the administrators who help maintain discipline.

Superintendent Pat Cooper defended the reductions, saying initiatives planned in the new school year will help curb discipline issues.