EBR School Board prepares for delayed budget decision

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board normally votes on its budget in advance of the fiscal year that starts July 1, but this year questions about how to use a $9 million windfall from the state as well as questions about spending plans by the superintendent prompted a delay.

The School Board will try again Thursday to vote on its 2013-14 operating budget when it holds its regular meeting.

The board plans to consider several other issues, including how best to train teachers to handle the Common Core educational standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, including Louisiana, but have sparked a growing protest movement around the country.

The $9 million windfall stems from a change in legislative funding prompted by a Louisiana Supreme Court decision in May. That ruling found unconstitutional the state’s use of the public school funding formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, to fund private school vouchers.

The changes came as the School Board was debating a $426.6 million budget that includes $6.2 million in cuts, amounting to 77 fewer job positions. The budget, however, also includes new spending that will leave the system paying $19 million more than it receives in revenue.

The proposed budget estimates the school system will end the fiscal year with just $7.3 million in unassigned reserves. That number, however, doesn’t reflect the new state revenue.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor also held off last month because he lacked a full house with two School Board members expected to be absent from the June 20 meeting. However, all of the board members won’t be present Thursday: School Board Vice President Tarvald Smith said he planned a vacation a long time ago for this week under the assumption that the board, as it has in the past, would have already approved a 2013-14 budget.

Taylor’s original budget included more than $1 million, coming from multiple sources, to hire the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Learning to train teachers in the new Common Core educational standards.

The board on June 6 initially balked at the proposed contract, $2.7 million over four years, and several board members still have questions.

Taylor earned all his academic degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, where the institute is based, and has used the organization repeatedly throughout his professional career. In a June 7 interview with The Advocate, Taylor said the quality of the institute’s work led him to not seriously consider using anyone else to train teachers in Common Core.

Taylor has since changed course. Thursday’s agenda includes an item where Taylor is asking the board to allow him to request proposals for an outside group to handle “curriculum development, assessment, professional development and coaching” connected with Common Core and the standardized tests that are springing from it.

A copy of the agenda, which was released late last week, can be found at: http://schoolboard.ebrschools.org/eduWEB2/1000145/docs/a07.18.13.pdf.

State law gives the board until September to approve its general operating budget for 2013-14.