St. Helena finishes 2012-13 school year with surplus

The St. Helena Parish School District finished the 2012-13 school year with an $87,206 surplus, down from a roughly $1.5 million deficit more than two years ago.

The final 2012-13 budget, approved Thursday by the St. Helena Parish School Board, shows the district took in a little more than $5.4 million in revenues, the bulk of which came from state funding. The district spent about $5.3 million, bringing its surplus to $87,206.

“It feels absolutely wonderful, and I knew that we would be able to do it,” said Superintendent Kelli Joseph, who noted the deficit was $1.5 million when she first took over in June 2011.

The school system’s initial general fund budget for 2012-13 projected a $297,967 deficit. A revised budget approved at the School Board’s June 20 meeting showed a deficit reduced down to $48,514. The budget approved Thursday shows that expenditures fell about $172,000 from what was projected the revised budget approved in June.

Joseph said most of the deficit reduction came through budget cuts.

The school district reduced salaries across the board while trying to avoid cutting anything affecting a classroom or students. The district also eliminated positions that went vacant and were deemed unnecessary, Joseph said.

“If we didn’t need it, we took it out,” she said. “If we said we could manage (without it), we took it out.”

In addition, the district’s Central Office staff has been reduced from about 20 people to 12, Joseph said.

The school system saved money in the 2012-13 school year on teachers’s salaries last year using substitute teachers. After some full-time teachers left their jobs, substitute teachers were used in the interim, which saved the district money, Joseph said.

While St. Helena generated a budget surplus from the last school year, its 2013-14 budget projects a deficit of $80,225 in its general fund budget. That budget shows a roughly $34,000 drop in total revenues and a $191,000 increase in expenditures.

Joseph said her office has already begun looking at ways to reduce that deficit.

“We are really healthy now financially,” she said.

The cuts come at a time when St. Helena is spending millions of dollars on new school buildings and renovations — and battling the state for control of its middle school.

Construction on the new facilities, including a 12-classroom building for the high school and a new football stadium, is expected to start in November, Joseph said.

The money for the projects largely will come from $8 million in bonds voters approved in November and $6.1 million in sales tax revenue.

St. Helena Parish has only three schools — an elementary, middle and high school. The state-run Recovery School District took over the poor-performing middle school in May 2010.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady in August rejected the parish’s request for control to be returned to St. Helena.

Joseph said the reduced deficit and new facilities could help St. Helena’s case in regaining its middle school.

“We’re actually ahead of ourselves, ahead of our projections,” she said.