$2.5 million pot may not be enough for Lafayette’s priority school expenses

School Board nears budget completion

There’s now a pot of about $2.5 million that instructional supervisors for the Lafayette Parish School System can try to tap in to for items needed when classes begin Aug. 12.

As the School Board continues to grapple with budget cuts, on Thursday night it carved out the $2.5 million from its rainy day account to cover priority expenses.

But it may not be enough.

The district needs to place an order for about $600,000 in instructional materials and other items to start the school year, board President Hunter Beasley said Friday. Beasley said the back-to-school orders could be considered by the board as soon as its next regular meeting on Wednesday. However, no requests to purchase instructional materials were on the agenda released late Friday afternoon.

The $2.5 million won’t stretch far enough to pay for the number of services required by either state or federal law that the board cut from the budget, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said Friday.

Billeaudeau urged the board during its meeting Thursday to reconsider cuts to mandated services, such as $87,062 to pay for the universal screening of students. The screening is required to determine whether students may need special services or support.

“We’re going to … look at what absolutely must be restored because of federal mandates and laws that we don’t have a choice about,” she said.

The School Board has proposed cuts of nearly $6 million from instructional department budgets and proposed a total of about $20 million in cuts in the past three months to offset a shortfall in the district’s operating budget. On Thursday, however, the board restored nearly $800,000 in proposed cuts to instructional departments, far less than the staff’s request that the board restore $5.8 million in spending.

Beasley said he envisions a separate meeting for supervisors to make pitches to the board for the restoration of other cuts made to their departments. No meeting date has been set.

A last-ditch proposal — the 10th — made by Superintendent Pat Cooper during Thursday’s meeting would have balanced the budget without reducing the personnel and resources that were tagged in board cuts. Cooper’s proposal involved about $7 million in cuts and covering part of the shortfall with $4 million from the contingency fund for capital projects and by recognizing a projected increase of $6.8 million in sales tax collections in the 2014-15 budget. The board saw an increase in tax revenues of the same amount in 2013-14.

“The public sees sales tax revenue going up and they ask, ‘Why are you in a deficit?’ That revenue hasn’t been recognized,” Billeaudeau said.

The district receives about $4,000 per student in state funding from the Minimum Foundation Program, Billeaudeau said.

“That does not pay for the complete education of our students in Lafayette Parish. It just doesn’t. So, you have to be able to have other means of revenue,” Billeaudeau said.

Cooper said Friday, “I do plan to take their suggestions and develop another budget proposal to submit at (their) next meeting.”

The board’s action Thursday clears the way for a draft of the budget to be prepared for public review as soon as Aug. 11. Final adoption by the board is now scheduled for Aug. 27.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.