Budget not only school debate point

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – In creating a balanced budget for the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School System, which was introduced for review purposes only at Thursday’s school board meeting, Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton and the rest of the district administration managed to avoid layoffs and furlough days, but the inevitable cuts left some school board members less than satisfied.

The proposed budget left in place a 50 percent reduction in athletic funding, and board member Rodney Nicholas again came out against the measure.

Additionally, board member Russell Jack expressed his displeasure at some of the programs and teaching positions that will be cut if the proposed budget passes unamended.

Finance Committee Chairman Clarence Triche, however, brought the reality of the district’s financial situation to the forefront.

“We have to present a balanced budget to the state,” he said. “Please, board members, do not try to add on more and more.”

His words seemed to fall on deaf ears, however, later in the meeting when the board unanimously agreed to reinstate supplemental insurance for student athletes. Originally left off the fiscal plan for the 2011-12 year, the issue came up because of an injury a west bank student-athlete sustained. The premium will add $42,000 to an already tight budget and likely reduce the general fund even further.

“It is a great benefit to give your students if you have the money,” said Boughton. “You do not have the money to pay the premium, but you have the option.”

Although Boughton said he expressed to the board the district’s intent to not renew the policy, many on the board seemed to take offense at the fact the administration seemingly moved forward without board approval.

Jack said, “If the board doesn’t have to approve it, we don’t need to be here,” while Board President Patrick Sanders went so far as to call the action illegal.

Sanders was already incensed by an action Superintendent Courtney Millet had taken earlier. She asked him to sign off on contracts for two part-time, hourly Response to Intervention teachers at LaPlace Elementary School, but he thought it was a matter best brought before the entire board.

“With this position comes a lot of responsibility,” he said, at the start of a speech that criticized the superintendent for what he saw as attempts to bypass policy.

“By no means are my positions personal. I believe we have a protocol to follow,” he said, adding, “By being an African-American male in this position, scrutiny prevails.”

Millet defended her actions, saying, “You hired me to improve the system, and it is my job to utilize the best resources available at the best cost, and these ladies fit those criteria.”

Ultimately, the measure was tabled until further research could be done on whether the superintendent’s actions followed board policy, but the heated discussion spurred board member Keith Jones to implore Millet and Sanders to put personal differences aside for the good of the district.

“It’s obvious to me there’s some friction between our superintendent and our board president,” said Jones. “It’s got to stop.”

In other action Thursday, the board approved a resolution to seek $8 million in general obligation bonds. This is the last round of bonds approved by St. John voters in 2008.