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Getting Answers: What's the financial picture for Lafayette Parish schools?

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Lafayette Parish voters in 2017 rejected a 10-year, half-cent sales tax proposal that would have funded construction improvements throughout the parish. Lafayette Parish voters in 2017 rejected a 10-year, half-cent sales tax proposal that would have funded construction improvements throughout the parish.
LAFAYETTE -

After cuts to the district's transportation system led to eliminated bus routes and a chaotic first week for some parents, KATC got answers on the school system's financial picture.

Costs are increasing for the system's employee retirement and health benefits," Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said on Friday.

Combining that aspect with a continuing trend of decreased sales tax revenues, along with the tens of millions in state funding lost to charter schools, the school system has less money to address its needs.

The school system has lost about $4 million in net local revenues over the last couple of years, Guidry said.

Along with the $1.75 million cut from transportation this year — also when new attendance zones took effect — the school system has reduced its employment of assistant principals, social workers and intervention specialists for at-risk students, among other cuts.

Since 2014, the school system has also permanently lost nearly $34 million in state funding to the four charter schools in the parish: Lafayette and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academies, Willow Charter Academy and JCFA-Lafayette. Unlike traditional public school systems, the state does not mandate that charter schools pay into the state retirement system for its employees.

"Those are pretty material numbers," Guidry said. "That has forced us to cut back considerably in different areas of our expenditures."

Growing needs, but borrowing maxed out

The school system's 2017-18 budget is $274 million, but it has more than $500 million in deferred maintenance and capital needs, Guidry said.

"We're addressing a very small percentage of that because our sales tax revenues are down," Guidry said.

Guidry said sales taxes primarily fund capital projects for the school system, and those revenues have declined by $7 million over the last two years.

The larger, recent projects undertaken by the district were funded through bonds. That allows the district to borrow on make monthly payments on big projects, like the additions at Milton Elementary and the forthcoming Billeaud Elementary School in Broussard, for which construction is to begin this school year.

Southside High School construction is estimated to cost about $78 million once the first phase is complete in December. At this point, Guidry said, there's no funding source for a second phase. The $325,000 proposed for athletic fields at the school were cut from the budget, according to the document.

He also noted it will be near middle of the next decade before the school system has additional bonding capacity for large capital projects.

"We're at a point where once we're finished with all the projects, we're basically maxed out on our monthly payments in terms of what we can comfortable pay back," Guidry said.

Failed sales tax would have funded some projects

A failed sales tax proposal would have addressed some of the critical needs, but voters chose overwhelmingly to defeat the tax.

The estimated $194 million raised over the next decade would have funded permanent classrooms for nine schools that rely on trailers, all new facilities for Prairie and Carencro Heights Elementary and a new wing at Lafayette High.

It would have also upgraded areas like cafeterias, libraries and bathrooms and installed security enhancements at all schools throughout the district.

Justin Centanni, who represents District 6, said the board's finance committee is considering ways to address critical construction needs, including by tapping into some of the system's reserves.

Centanni pointed out students throughout the entire district take classes in one of the system's 419 portable buildings — with some of them even using portable restrooms.

"This doesn't affect any one part of the parish. It affects every part of the parish," Centanni said.

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