School Board dips into reserves for new budget; faces more cuts

Deidre Cruse

The Iberville Parish School Board will use some $10.6 million from its reserve accounts as a one-time move to balance its 2011-12 budget of $109 million, as school officials new ways to cut costs.

Chief Financial Officer Jolain Landry told the POST/SOUTH the school system would still have nearly $24.5 million in reserve after the deduction to finish the current construction program, but must find ways to make up for the loss of $2.5 million for school maintenance from a 6.22 mill property tax renewal voters rejected in April. The proposition lost by 116 votes.

The new budget already reflects cuts in operating expenses, including the elimination of 100 staff positions, many of them by attrition.

The School Board adopted the spending plan last week in an 11-3 vote with little public discussion.

Board Member Darlene Ourso of White Castle attempted to question Landry about it, but was cut off by Board Member Tom Delahaye of Plaquemine, who called for the question.

Delahaye said Ourso could have picked up the telephone and called  as everyone else did.

“That's why we don't have any money now,” Ourso said.

“The public needs to know that we got this budget a month ago,” Delahaye said.

Delahaye's motion to call the question and the budget passed by the same vote. Voting yes were board members Albertha Hasten of White Castle, Freddie “Sam” Molden III of Bayou Goula, Donald Ray Patterson of Maringouin, Nancy T. Broussard and Melvin Lodge, both of St. Gabriel, and Michael “Chief” Barbee, Delahaye, Michael J. Hebert Jr., Glyna M. Kelley, Yolanda Laws and Brian S. Willis, all of Plaquemine. Voting no were Ourso, Pamela George of Grosse Tete and Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine. Paul B. Distefano of Plaquemine was absent.

Also at its meeting, the board voted 14-0 to renew its property, general liability and auto insurance policy, managed by Iberville Insurance Agency, for $900,087, a $130,000 increase brought on by the addition of some $40 million in new school consruction.

In his report to the board on “major fiscal issues,” Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. noted that salaries and related benefits make up 87 percent of the school system's operating budget. Sales tax revenues are down and the School Board forfeited some $1 million a year by not rolling its property taxes forward to the amount approved by voters, Dr. Cancienne said.

In addition to the loss of the the maintenance tax, the school system's state funding has been frozen, Landry told the newspaper.

She said she and Cancienne have discussed possible ways to cut  next year's budget.

Further staff cuts, closing schools and trying again to pass the maintenance tax all are under consideration, the financial officer said.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.                                                                 

Most recently, she said she and the superintendent have discussed holding community hearings to gather suggestions from parents, school staffers and other members of the community.

“We're going to let them drive some of this, and see where we go,” Landry said.