Avoyelles School Board facing looming deficit

Superintendent warns "deep cuts" may be necessary


   Current budget projections may give cause for concerns, but not for immediate panic, the Avoyelles School Board Finance Committee was told at its meeting Dec. 13.
   Finance Director Mary Bonnette said that if the board’s budget year ended in December, it would be facing a $2.4 million deficit. Fortunately, the budget year is not Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, but July 1 to June 30. That leaves open the possibility of a financial turnaround before the budget year ends, Bonnette said.
   The black cloud to that silver lining is that the school district would still be facing a $1 million deficit, based on past experience.
   Superintendent Blaine Dauzat pointed out that at this time last year, the district was facing a $1.1 million deficit. By the end of the budget year in June, the budget had been balanced.
   District officials are hopeful that the board will be able to duplicate that effort in the last six months of the fiscal year.
   Bonnette cited several factors for the impending deficit.
   A major cause is a 4-percent decrease in sales tax collections over the past 12 months.
  Another is a decline in state Minimum Foundation Program funds because of a drop in enrollment in the Oct. 1 official count. If the Feb. 1 enrollment count is higher, the school system could recover some of that lost MFP funding.
   The rising cost of health insurance has also impacted the budget. Bonnette said insurance will cost at least 7 percent more next fiscal year.
   “We have been making cuts to the budget,” Dauzat told board members. “In fact, we have cut expenses by $1 million. It’s the revenue side of the budget that is hurting us.
   “If this keeps up and the deficit remains,” he continued, “we will have to consider making deep cuts at the end of the fiscal year to balance the budget.”
   Some pressure could be relieved through employee attrition, holding off on filling vacancies until after the end of the school year when the district can take a closer look at faculty allotment, Dauzat said.
  With special education expenses projected to be about $400,000 more than last year, Dauzat said the School Board might consider hiring a consulting firm to see if and/or how special education expenses can be reduced.
   The company would charge $10,000 for its review and recommendations, but could save the district significantly more in the long-term.
   “We need to look at ways to raise revenue,” School Board President Darrell Wiley exclaimed.
   Board members gave several quick ideas to consider, but no action was taken. 
   Liz Ned said the board needs to look at schools with two assistant principals or an assistant principal and a Dean of Students.
   Mike Lacombe suggested the board sell some of the property that they have to maintain and cut grass but are unable to use. 
   Bonnette said the board my need to look at consolidating bus routes to save money.


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