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DayeTime: 'Pain' by numbers

Do you remember the old paint-by-numbers kits?

I tried a few of those when I was a kid, but they never looked like the box top. My “flying ducks” looked like “flying blobs.”

You can’t run a school system on the paint-by-numbers philosophy of taking someone else’s basic product and coloring in your local touch to come out with something that looks like the original.

It would be nice if you could. All school districts would look about the same -- assuming their officials were more talented artists than I am.

However, numbers in school are still important -- and in more than just math class.

Instead of a paint-by-numbers approach, it is more of a “pain-by-numbers” situation.

Enrollment numbers determine state funding. That important count occurs on Oct. 1. There will be a follow-up tally in February.

Right now, for an as-yet-unexplained reason, Bunkie Elementary and Bunkie Magnet High have seen increases in enrollment. Bunkie High has about 100 more students than it did this time last year.

LaSAS, an in-district charter high school, is about even. It’s enrollment is capped and it maintains a waiting list to fill vacancies. The other schools’ enrollments have declined.

Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said the district had projected a 200-student decline, so that particular number -- while unpleasant -- is not a surprise.

The enrollment number relates directly to another number of concern to School Board members and district employees: a projected $2.5 million deficit.

Over the past few years, conservative estimates on revenue combined with unexpected sources of income and reducing expenditures where possible has whittled down projected large budget deficits.

Small year-end deficits were covered by dipping into the accumulated Reserve Fund. In 2017-18, the board had a surplus and spent it on a one-time supplement for its employees.

The 2018-19 budget year ended with a $1.8 million surplus. That led to another number important to school employees: $600,000.

That’s how much of that surplus Dauzat proposed using to fund a one-time salary supplement to all employees who worked in the system last year and returned this year.

Any employee with a teaching certificate -- including principals, Central Office staff and teachers -- would get $1,000 under that proposal. The “non-certificated” personnel would receive a $500 supplement.

There is another important number. The number is “4” -- as in 4-day week, which was intended to compensate somewhat for lowest-in-state teacher pay; as in 4 p.m., when young children are being released from an extended school day; and as in the 4-4 tie that killed the motion to pay the supplement.

Board member Stanley Celestine Jr. was unable to attend the Sept. 3 board meeting. He would have been the tie-breaking vote.

Celestine told Dauzat by email that he supported paying the one-time supplement.

If my math is correct, that means the supplement may have not been killed but merely delayed -- assuming the other four pro-supplement votes don’t change.

This issue is a classic example of why most sound-minded individuals don’t seek public office. There is no vote possible in this issue that can be said to be “right” or “wrong.”

Dauzat had a good point in proposing to use $500,000 to pay off the note on recent bus purchases. This would save about $40,000 in interest and eliminate a note payment line item from the next few budget years.

Paying $600,000 to reward last year’s employees who returned to the district this year also makes sense.

That still allows some of the surplus to be put into reserve to cover some -- and maybe, by the end of the budget year, all -- of the projected deficit.

However, spending over $1 million of unexpected surplus when you are looking at a $2.5 million deficit goes against basic logic.

So, do you want to be “anti-teacher” or “fiscally irresponsible?”

There is really only one GOOD answer.

“I want to stay home and let someone else worry about those things.”

While almost all of us can get away with adopting that attitude, there has to be at least nine of us willing to stick out their chin, close their eyes and brace for impact.

Even if your board member doesn’t vote the way you would have voted, be thankful it’s not you having to make those hard, no-win decisions.

Who knows, in a few years you might be in their place and they could be in yours.

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