St. John schools’ budget woes may be ending

Published 11:45 pm Friday, April 20, 2012

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The budget problems that have dogged the St. John the Baptist Parish school system for the past few years will be lessening a bit for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton.

In his quarterly budget report to the School Board Thursday, Boughton said next year about half of the state funds, or $5.6 million, that were taken away from the district’s budget over the past few years will return for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“Sales tax has been low for a couple of years,” said Boughton.

The lower sales tax means an increase in MFP funding, he said. The initial drop in funding came as a result of elevated local revenue that was collected while Marathon’s Garyville refinery completed a massive expansion project.

Boughton said the resulting drop in MFP funding along with an increase in retirement expenses led to three consecutive summers of budget cuts. He also noted that despite the cuts the district has managed to place 12th among all districts in the state in terms of growth.

Boughton also said that while some of the smaller items that have been eliminated from the budget in recent years may be reinstated, a general freeze on hiring will likely remain in place during the next fiscal year.

Because of the easing of financial pressures, Boughton said he hopes to expedite the budget process this year, setting a target date of May 17 to present the budget to the School Board.

While state funding was low, the district was able to get by with the help of money tucked away in a fund balance, but the increase in state funding has come at a particularly opportune time.

“We’re going to use up most of that this year,” said Boughton, who praised the School Board for having the foresight to save up some funds in the first place.

Speaking of the recently approved education reform measures, board member Russ Wise pointed out that the district may have one more hurdle to clear before budget woes can be considered a thing of the past.

“Depending on what happens over the summer, that could have a significant impact,” he said.

He said the new measures call for funding, even locally generated funding, to follow students should they transfer to a private institution.

“We’re going to have to fight for every kid,” he said.

“These things are literally going to be highly destructive to public education,” he added.

In other action Thursday, Superintendent Courtney Millet announced the district’s teachers of the year and support personnel of the year.

Shontrece Lathers of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School was named elementary school teacher of the year, Shanna Beber of LaPlace Elementary School was named middle school teacher of the year, and Janice Lubin of West St. John High School was named high school teacher of the year.

Regarding the support personnel, Carolyn Young, a paraprofessional at Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School, was named elementary school support employee of the year, Jo Ann Byers, the cafeteria manager at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary was named middle school support employee of the year, and Teckla Holder, a paraprofessional at East St. John High School, was named high school support employee of the year.