Dedicated funds can’t help school system budget woes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Amid budget woes and the possibility of layoffs and salary reductions in the St. John the Baptist Parish school system, major construction projects continue throughout the parish. That is because the money funding these projects, like many other initiatives in the district, comes from dedicated sources that cannot be used for other purposes.

In 2008, parish voters approved a $29.5 million bond issue for renovations to district educational facilities. The money from the bond issue must be used for its appointed purpose, said Superintendent Courtney Millet.

Millet said some have suggested the district go through the appropriate channels to redistribute the money, but she said she is against the idea.

“This is all about maintaining the integrity of the classroom,” said Millet. “We just need to get through this rough spot.”

Other educational initiatives, such as technology improvements and outside-of-class tutoring, are also paid for through a combination of federal and state funds including Title I, II and III, the Educational Excellence Fund, generated by tobacco taxes, and E-rate, a fund dedicated to technology improvements.

While the system has long had such funds at its disposal, district administrators are getting more creative with their use of them.

Many of the uses the district has found for the funding fall under the category of what Media Coordinator Heidi Trosclair called “unfunded mandates,” programs required by law but not funded through a specific source.

In other cases, some government money sources are already partially spent before the district can even touch them.

Money for Supplemental Education Services, for example, must be taken out of Title I funding before it is apportioned in other ways.

Even sales tax revenue has guidelines concerning what percentage can be spent where. For example, .25 percent must be spent on salaries and benefits for teachers. According to Trosclair, when there is a surplus, it is divided among certified teachers.

In August 2009, every teacher in St. John the Baptist Parish received $4,025 because of a surplus.

Dedicated funding, while it presents certain constraints when figuring a budget, also has its advantages.

Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton said E-rate money pays for, among other things, the district’s Internet service and cell phones. “We couldn’t make it without these funds,” said Boughton.

In addition to the various dedicated funding outlets, Millet pointed out that many of the factors affecting the current budget crisis were in pace prior to her tenure. Among those decisions was building a new K-8 school (Emily C. Watkins) despite a shrinking student population.