School budget up for vote tomorrow

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board will vote on a finalized budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year tomorrow evening at the board meeting room in Reserve.

The budgeting process this year, though not as drawn out as last summer’s ordeal, has been a point of contention between district administration and some school board members recently.

Over the past couple of years, the district has struggled with reduced state funding and a rise in expenses.

“We have a $60 million budget, and we’ve had $30 million worth of bad things happen to it,” said Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton.

Since 2008-09, funding from sales tax revenue and the MFP has dropped from more than $69.5 million to less than $45 million. At the same time, retirement costs for the district have increased by $4 million.

Boughton said the district has been able to weather the storm so far because it had amassed a surplus of about $13 million while it was collecting sales taxes from the Marathon expansion project.

“We didn’t have to make $30 million in cuts because we saved up $13 million,” said Boughton.

The district began this fiscal year with $5.3 million in the fund balance but will use most of that by the end of the current fiscal year.

Boughton also noted St. John pales in comparison to neighboring parishes when considering per-student allotments that come from local funding.

In St. Charles Parish, $9,225 is spent per student, while in St. James $5,331 is spent per student. In St. John, only $4,170 is spent.

The proposed budget will cut spending in a variety of ways. Schools have been given a budget for substitute teachers this year, and although there have been no layoffs, the district will save $1.3 million this year on salaries of positions that have been eliminated through attrition.

One of the biggest sticking points for some board members has been the proposed reduction of athletics allotments by 50 percent. While board members Russell Jack and Rodney Nicholas have been very vocal in their opposition, board member Russ Wise has favored the move in lieu of eliminating teachers or academic programs.

“We need to put to rest the urban myth that’s going around that athletics is a substantial way for our kids get to college,” said Wise.

Wise cited scholarship statistics from the district’s two high school as evidence. He noted only four students at West St. John and three at East St. John received athletic scholarships last year.

Whether the proposed cut to athletics funding is included in the final budget will be up to the school board when it votes on the matter during a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. tomorrow. Before the vote, there will be a public hearing on the budget starting at 4:30 p.m.

Boughton and Superintendent Courtney Millet have been presenting details to civic groups and other organizations in an effort to get the public on board with the plan.

The board has until Sept. 15 to pass a balanced budget.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must receive an approved budget by Sept. 30.