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[school-discuss] the end of a story about budget cuts

East Jefferson News

Schools' budget efforts aren't over with yet

Board looks for ways to soften blow of cuts


By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau/The Times-Picayune

The Jefferson Parish School Board finally capped off its summer of money 
troubles, which included voters crushing a sales tax increase and audiences 
packing hearings on potential cuts, by trimming and balancing its budget this 

But the more than $9 million in cuts approved Wednesday night are just the 
beginning of the work when it comes to the school system's shaky financial 

School officials immediately began looking for ways to soften some of the 
cuts, especially an item that will raise class sizes in middle, junior high 
and high schools.

The board has called a special meeting for Tuesday, just six days before the 
school year begins, to revisit that issue and possibly revise its 
less-than-a-week-old budget.

Then, in coming weeks and months, administrators will study an array of 
cost-saving and revenue-generating ideas that board members have raised, 
which could lead to still more budget revisions.

"The budget is a living and breathing thing," said Raylyn Stevens, the 
system's chief financial officer.

In total, $9.8 million in belt-tightening measures made it into the 2002-03 
budget as it stands. That is $800,000 more than needed to offset a shortfall 
blamed on rising health insurance costs and other expenses. Board members 
asked whether the $800,000 could go toward diminishing the increase in class 
sizes. Larger classes erode teachers' attention to education, they argued.

So although Superintendent Elton Lagasse hoped the money could be added to the 
system's razor-thin cash reserves, board members are eyeing it as a way to 
hire more teachers and stem classroom crowding.

Budget tweaking

Some of the approved cuts, such as the larger classes, moving emotionally 
disturbed students into general special education classes and reducing 
teacher jobs for students learning English, will mean certified teachers have 
to move to vacant jobs as their old positions are eliminated, said school 
system Personnel Director Ronald Ceruti. Some noncertified employees could be 
laid off, he said.

Other cuts include central office jobs, teacher assistant jobs, student worker 
jobs, raises for system executives, busing expenses and a fine arts program.

Officials are studying whether $800,000 is enough to change the ratio in upper 
grades from the newly approved level of 30 students per teacher to 29 
students per teacher. Last year's ratio was 28 students per teacher.

Another question is how much less the system would save in teacher retirement 
costs by not sticking with the cheaper 30-to-1 ratio.

Other issues remain for the new budget, which totals $287 million in 

Lagasse said the budget is precariously balanced because it relies on $1.8 
million in nonrecurring revenue to pay for ongoing annual expenses. Money 
from federal reimbursements for health care, for example, will preserve eight 
nursing jobs.

The board circumvented other potential cuts, such as elementary school 
librarian jobs, school-based administrator jobs, school-based clerk jobs and 
one central office job, partly by dipping into surplus money from school 
lunch sales, adult education tuition and community education fees.

Stevens warned that those surpluses could be gone next year. Indeed, Stevens 
and board member Chris Roberts said those programs have suffered deficits in 
the past.

Money-saving options

Roberts said he's interested in saving money on benefits for full-time 
teachers by replacing full-time positions with part-time jobs geared toward 
retired educators looking to return for a light work load.

Board member Julie Quinn presented other ideas for saving and raising money, 
including selling property, refinancing debt, replacing 11-month clerk jobs 
with 10-month positions, creating a new energy-saving plan, giving employees 
the option to leave the state-run insuran