St. Helena boasts shrinking deficit

The St. Helena Parish School District’s general fund deficit has shrunk to about $48,000, down from roughly $1.5 million two years ago.

The district’s superintendent, Kelli Joseph, said she expects the deficit to dwindle even further thanks to a bump in public school funding from the 2013 state legislative session.

The School District has already begun work on its 2013-14 budget, which Joseph said should include an additional $80,000 or so from the state after legislators recently approved a $69 million boost for public schools.

Joseph said about half of that money will go to teachers, while the other half will be used to help close the district’s deficit.

After that, she said, she and her staffers will comb the budget once again for any items that can be purged.

“The closer I get to the end, it gets harder and harder,” she said.

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 shows the school system cut $380,829 in expenditures from the budget but lost $121,544 in revenues, bringing the deficit to $48,514.

Of the reduction in expenditures in the final 2012-13 budget, $198,000 came from facilities operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

Overall, spending on teacher salaries for regular programs fell only slightly from $1.28 million in 2012 to $1.22 million in 2013. Salaries for special education teachers dropped from $289,364 in 2012 to $284,931 in 2013.

Joseph said she has tried to streamline central office operations as much as possible, all the while avoiding any cuts to teaching positions.

“We went in and cut anything that was related to an effect on an adult, like travel,” Joseph said.

Joseph said the school system also took advantage of federal Gulf Coast Recovery Grant funds, which ran out this year.

But while St. Helena is cutting its general fund budget, it is also working on extensive renovations at its elementary and high schools, projected to cost about $14.7 million.

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, according to a master plan for the facility’s renovations.

Planned renovations for the high school include building a 12-classroom facility and a stadium in addition to refurbishing a technical college building near the campus. The renovations are expected to cost about $8.8 million.

For the elementary school, officials plan to build an eight-classroom facility, in addition to renovating the school’s cafeteria and existing classrooms. Those plans carry a $5.8 million price tag.