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|School officials anticipate funding shortfall|
The Ouachita Parish School System remains in strong financial shape, but officials are concerned about an anticipated decrease in state and federal funding in two years.
The school board approved its 2009-10 fiscal year budget Tuesday during its regular meeting.
School officials budgeted a $422,740 increase, or surplus, in the general fund - the school system's main operating account - for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
The general fund is expected to have a balance of $17.18 million at the end of June 30, 2010, when the 2009-10 fiscal year ends.
Last fiscal year, the school system's general fund posted a $1.05 million deficit, so reductions of approximately $2 million in general fund expenditures have been budgeted for the 2009-10 fiscal year to eliminate the deficit.
Local revenue accounts for about 13 percent of the school system's annual revenue. There are two local property taxes that provide roughly $14 million annually to the school system.
Ouachita Parish Schools business manager Richard Garrett said property taxes locally have increased over the past few years due mainly to an increase in property values.
The Ouachita Parish Tax Assessor's office recently reported the tax roll increased about 6 percent this year.
"This year it really jumped, which is great news for us because that's about $800,000 more that we were able to bring in this year," Garrett said.
State funding has been the area where school officials are most concerned, Garrett said.
"State revenue has been a big concern for us this year because the economy of the state has really gone down," Garrett said. "We were really concerned if the state would be able to fund the MFP or cut it."
The Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education determines the amount of funding provided to each school system in the state.
Garrett said Ouachita Parish Schools received its full MFP funding this year due to the federal stimulus money provided to the state.
That "stabilization" money totaled $100.3 million, which the state used to help fund the MFP, Garrett said.
"If you hear the state say we didn't get cut, we actually did get cut, but the stimulus money kind of covered what they couldn't," said Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber.
Ouachita Parish Schools received $3.4 million in federal stimulus stabilization money.
"The stimulus money helped get us up to what we got last year, but the stimulus money is a two-year deal," Webber explained. "So, we didn't get cut, but in a way, we did. With the federal stimulus money, we should be in pretty good shape this year and next year, plus we should have some more money coming to us in February because our student population is up about 150 students, so that means extra dollars, too, when they adjust the MFP.
"We'll be OK this year and next, and hopefully after that the economy will turn around, the state will be doing well and the price of oil will be up so we can have additional funding.
"Most of our funding comes from the state through the MFP formula, so we'll see what happens, but it does give us a few years to prepare after the stimulus money runs out, and if things are not in the shape we want, we'll have to make adjustments."
Because salary and benefits eat up 80 percent of the school system's budget, if any adjustments need to be made in the next few years, it would be in those areas.
"We really haven't reduced staff, and with this stabilization money, we increased about 10 or 12 positions, which equates to about $500,000," Garrett said.
The school system also is using another $1 million in stimulus stabilization funding to provide salaries and benefits to some teachers.
"We're OK for two years, but we really need to be thinking about this $500,000 in new positions plus the $1 million of other salaries that we slid over into the stimulus money," Garrett said. "Plus, we will open two schools in two years."
Another concern is the reduction of $1.2 million in state mandated programs which must be offered to students with or without state funding.
The school system must fund the programs through its general fund, which would put an additional $800,000 burden on that fund, Garrett said.
Garrett said school officials meet frequently to look at how to reduce expenditures over the next several years.
"Everybody is aware of it, and we're looking at this two years down the road so it's not something that will just slip up on us," he said. "We're going to head this off, and we've got two years to get all this corrected."