Avoyelles School Board puts ‘surplus supplement’ on hold
More revenue than anticipated, a large one-time reimbursement and some unexpected reductions in expenses turned an expected $300,000 deficit into a $1.8 million surplus, the Avoyelles Parish School Board was told at its Sept. 3 meeting.
However, news that the 2019-20 budget is still projecting a $2.5 million deficit put half of the board members in a “save for a rainy day” frame of mind.
The other half wanted to adopt Superintendent Blaine Dauzat’s proposal to give all certified personnel a $1,000 “surplus supplement” and all support personnel a $500 supplement.
The tie-breaker would have been Stanley Celestine Jr., who was unable to attend the meeting.
“Mr. Celestine emailed me today and said he wanted you (board members) to know that he supports this,” Dauzat said. “Of course, he can’t vote because he is not here, but he wanted you to know his position.”
DIES ON A TIE
The end result was that a motion to pay the supplements failed on a 4-4 tie vote.
On the “pro-supplement” side were board members Van Kojis, Chris LaCour, Chris Robinson and Latisha Small.
On the “pro-rainy day” side were Lynn Deloach, Rickey Adams, Robin Moreau and Aimee Dupuy.
Kojis made the motion to accept Dauzat’s proposal to spend about $600,000 for the supplements, $500,000 to pay off the debt for new buses early to save on interest and to put the remaining $700,000 in the Reserve Fund.
After discussion on the wisdom of spending over $1 million of a surplus when the current budget calls for a $2.5 million deficit, Kojis amended his motion to eliminate approval of paying off the bus loan until the Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 17.
Dauzat said that for the past five years as superintendent he has seen projected deficits shrink.
For the first three years, the budget ended at almost even. The previous budget year ended with a $600,000 surplus instead of a $1 million deficit.
The board chose to give a one-time supplement with that surplus.
The district had initially projected another deficit of over $1 million for the budget year that just ended. During the year, the anticipated deficit shrunk to $300,000.
Finance Supervisor Mary Bonnette said recent additions in revenue occurred as she was closing out the books on the 2018-19 school year budget.
Those includes over $315,000 more in sales tax revenues, almost $10,000 in unbudgeted casino distribution funds, $110,000 more in investment income due to higher interest rates, over $300,000 in a one-time Medicaid refund from a 2015 legal case and $400,000 more in MFP funds to the General Fund.
On the expense side, the district had over-budgeted retiree health premiums and the amount to be paid for teacher retirement, Bonnette said.
Dauzat said the financial news contained “pleasant surprises,” but also was “a shock because we had been saying we would have a deficit.”
He told board members that the anticipated $2.5 million deficit will probably be reduced, as has happened in the past five budgets, but he cannot predict by how much.
That projection was based on the district losing 200 students. The post-Labor Day student count found the district with 199 fewer students than it had this time last year.
That is 10 more than the pre-Labor Day count. Dauzat said he believes the Oct. 1 official enrollment count will show a decline of about 200.
The district has been losing about 80-100 students for the past few years. The opening of Red River Charter Academy was expected to take about 100-120 students in grades 6-8 from the public schools in enrollment. The school opened with 197 students enrolled.
All of the board members expressed support for increasing employees’ pay.
However, Adams spoke first against the supplement.
“We don’t have a surplus,” Adams said. “We finished one year with a $1.8 million surplus, but we started the next one with a projected $2.5 million deficit. We need to be smart with the public’s money. We need to fix the pay issue with a long-term solution, not a stipend.”
Adams said the board has treated its employees “as well as we can with what we have. We can’t give them what we don’t have.”
Moreau echoed that sentiment, saying the board needs to look at a long-term solution after the Oct. 1 enrollment and a review of the budget figures.
When scattered snickers met Moreau’s suggestion that the board may need to consider presenting another tax proposition to the voters, he gruffly added, “Well, we need to do something.”
Board member Aimee Dupuy said she initially told Dauzat she would support his proposal, but after considering all factors she said it was not a good business decision to spend a large portion of a year-ending surplus when the next year’s projection calls for a large deficit.
She suggested setting aside the early pay-off for buses and adding that $500,000 to the Reserve Fund to help offset the anticipated deficit. That would allow the supplement to go ahead with taking away too much of the surplus, she added.
Dauzat noted that before he decided to present his proposal on using the surplus he thought he had the votes for approval. However, he added, the comments during discussion caused him to question whether the measure would pass.
He said not passing the supplement proposal might be worse than had he not presented it in the first place.