2010-11 budget remains on table

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The absence of an extended closed-door executive session at Thursday’s St. John the Baptist Parish School Board meeting seemed to ease the strain that has characterized recent meetings, but that is not to say the evening was tension free.

After unanimously approving the amended 2009-10 budget and a salary schedule that remained unchanged from last year save for a provision about the use of buses for athletic events, the board’s agreeable nature seemed to evaporate.

As Felix Boughton, executive director for business and finance, reintroduced the proposed budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, he explained the board’s policy dictates a balanced budget must be approved by July 1 although state law does not require it until September.

“To comply with your policy, I recommend you approve this budget,” said Boughton.

His words fell on deaf ears, however, as a motion to table the matter for now passed unanimously.

Although the board was in unison about tabling the matter — due in part to a teachers’ union plan given to board members minutes before the meeting’s start that proposes among other cost-cutting measures unpaid furloughs for district employees — the timeframe for adopting a budget was a little less clear. Most agreed sometime next month would be optimal, however.

“There are people’s jobs hanging in the balance,” said board member Russ Wise. “We’re going to have to pull the trigger on this one one way or the other.”

Board member Russell Jack said he thinks it would be a good idea if some board members attended union negotiation meetings, a point Vice President Patrick Sanders agreed with.

Despite President Gerald Keller’s statement, “I don’t think the board should be in a position to attend negotiation sessions,” Sanders said he would like to be privy to what the administration is doing on the board’s behalf.

Superintendent Courtney Millet’s plan for reorganizing the central office fared no better. Said Jack, “I’m going to ask board members to look at this carefully.”

He noted what he thought were inconsistencies regarding which positions in the central office were being eliminated.

“I think it’s unjust. I think it’s conniving,” said Jack. “It’s time we put our foot down.”

The item ultimately failed because the motion to approve it failed to gain a second, and it will be revisited at the next meeting.

Millet’s frustration with the evening’s proceeding and the situation in general was evident following the meeting’s conclusion.

“We met all timelines regarding the budget and staffing,” she said. “Are we disappointed? Yes.”

She continued that she thought dragging out the matter to such an extent is hurting progress in the district. The delay, she said, has the potential to cause staffing issues when the school year starts.

“We’ve already reviewed all of this with our principals,” Millet said of the financial plan.

Boughton added the district’s financial problems may be compounded by the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because there are so many vendors in the parish supply drilling operations.

Millet, however, is trying to remain focused on the true nature of her position — that of ensuring the best possible education for the children of St. John.

Said Millet, “We have adults in the system because we have students.”