Student count up, schools sales tax down
By: JEAN L. KAESS
Preliminary reports indicate student enrollment is up in St. Mary Parish.
That means more state money from the Minimum Foundation Program if the numbers hold. Unfortunately, it may not be enough to balance out sales tax losses if the current trend continues.
Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard said during Thursday’s school board meeting that, while preliminary, enrollment counts indicate an increase of 63 students, from 9,095 in 2010 to 9,158 as of Thursday. Head counts are official as of Oct. 1.
MFP formulas grant St. Mary Parish roughly $6,000 to educate each child. With the increase, the school system could expect to see an additional $378,000.
It is the first time since 2005, when enrollment was artificially increased to 10,552 by Hurricane Katrina evacuees, that there has been an increase in enrollment over the previous year (10,203 in 2004).
“Since then we have slowly eroded away our MFP money,” Aguillard said.
The Louisiana Department of Education conducts a mid-year student count on Feb. 1. Districts that have 50 or more students above their prior year MFP count are compensated. Interestingly, districts can have as many as 49 extra students and receive no additional compensation.
Each school system already receives monthly MFP checks based on the prior year student count. They can only receive extra money mid-year if they have 50 or more additional students.
Meanwhile, two months into the fiscal year, total sales tax collections are down 9.4 percent from the previous year and 8.3 percent below budget.
Actual collections were $2.71 million versus the $2.96 million budgeted, for a net loss of $246,663 so far.
The school system has a property tax election on the Oct. 22 ballot.
The 11.18 mill tax, on the books since 1988, generates $6.3 million annually for teacher pay and benefits. Failure to renew the tax for another 10 years would “trigger a catastrophic event” in this parish, Aguillard said.
To make up for the loss, either 18 percent of teachers (equating to 127 positions) would have to be eliminated, or teachers would have to take an 11 percent pay cut across the board.
That amount is equivalent to a $357 per month cut in salary for a teacher holding a bachelor’s degree at step one of the system’s salary schedule.
The school system is projected to finish the 2011-12 fiscal year with about a $23.11 million surplus when factoring in the projected balance of approximately $25.47 million from the recently completed 2010-11 fiscal year.
“It is important to keep in mind that whatever the final fund balance figure — whether it be $20 million, $25 million or whatever — is not available for use. Most of these funds are either legally reserved or have been designated by the board,” Chief Financial Officer Alton Perry said this morning via email.
In other fiscal undertakings, Aguillard announced 364 computers were purchased with $239,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment funds that were required to be spent by Sept. 1.
The computers were used to replace the oldest Fast Forward lab computers in elementary schools. One lab at each elementary in the parish now is fully equipped with new computers, the superintendent said.
The school board also voted to take liability insurance from the Louisiana Public Schools Risk Management Agency at a cost of $326,390. This is an increase of $15,177 over the previous year, primarily because of an increase in student enrollment and in the number of vehicles insured (123 versus 119 in 2010).
In other action, the council:
—Learned a redistricting workshop will be held Sept. 19, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
—Gave permission under Act 131 to hire custodians at Centerville and Berwick high schools.
—Approved a list of personnel swaps, appointments, sabbatical leave and retirements.
—Approved the 2011-12 Gold Book updates and policy updates, affected by changes in state law, as recommended by Forethought Consulting.
—Approved a change order for drainage improvements at Bayou Vista Elementary School adding additional work found necessary during construction at a cost of $3,363.
—Approved the substantial completions of the drainage improvements at BVES, air conditioning system replacement at Morgan City Junior High, a kitchen hood replacement at J.S. Aucoin Elementary and a window wall replacement at Berwick Elementary School.
—Repassed a resolution hiring outside council to represent the board in oil and gas lease negotiations. The outside lawyer’s pay rate was not included and the Attorney General’s office, which must approve all hiring of outside council, would not accept it.
—Received an update, in a short executive session, on Castaneda vs. Poledore and St. Mary Parish School Board.
—Authorized Berwick High School to designate the football field at Geisler Stadium as the Clifford Watson Field.
School Board members Ginger Griffin and Mary Lockley were absent from Thursday’s meeting.