Lafayette School Board Members Speak Out On Failed Budget Proposal
The Lafayette Parish School Board did not vote to give approval to the district's proposed $409 million budget.
Some of the school board members said they could not agree with using funds that are dedicated for teacher raises and $4.2 million in rainy day funds to balance the budget.
One of those was District 6 member Gregory Awbrey, who represents constituents roughly from Ambassador Caffery to University and north of Johnston Street and south of Cameron Street. He says "the budget isn't really balanced" if you use the money from the reserves.
I budget in the school system the same way I do with my own money. I don't spend in deficit at home and I'm not going to do it with the public's money.
Awbrey says under this proposed budget, "the teachers basically would be paying for the savings in the general fund. The teachers would be contributing to the budget deficit...they would be closing the gap."
Tehmi Chaisson, who represents District 4, which includes schools such as J.W. Faulk Elementary, Northside High School and the Career Center, did not like that the budget would have used $1.5 million from a 2002 sales tax that would fund teacher pay raises to supplement the general fund. He says many teachers use that money as a bonus check that varies in amount from year to year.
The teachers look forward to it. And I just couldn’t justify taking $1.5 million out of the sales tax fund and using that to pay for three assistant principal positions. It kind of defeats the purpose of “it’s for the teachers, it’s for the school system,” yet we’re going to use it for administrative situations.
In voting against the proposed budget, Chaisson didn’t vote with the so-called “gang of five,” a group of board members that supported Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper’s hire. He says “there is no gang of five…no gang period” and that there is no collaboration going on among him and other board members. He also expressed disgust with the term “gang of five” and does not like the fact that he and other board members are referred to by that term by some in the media.
Chaisson says his vote had nothing to do with the reconstitution efforts at Northside High School and that he remains hopeful as the school moves on.
If anybody is resilient enough to handle this it is the kids at Northside. I know they’ll get through it, but still to say, it still kind of hurts. Even when things gets turned around I’m gonna be happy but I’m still gonna be sad because I know it could have happened with those people still there.
Chaisson says he has gotten a lot of support from teachers in the community through emails and text messages. He says he just doesn’t want to take money away from the teachers.
We gotta get the teachers as much money as possible. They are grossly underpaid. So I'm not gonna do anything that hurts the teacher's checkbook and salary.
The school system's chief financial officer Billy Guidry said the board will meet soon in another workshop to try to tackle the issues. Awbrey says they are going to come to some kind of agreement.
And it's my hope that we don't get into our reserves and that we don't balance the budget on the backs of the teacher's salaries.
Louisiana law says that each school board system must have an approved budget by September 15th, but Guidry said the board traditionally has approved its budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Efforts to reach the four school board members who voted for the proposed budget have been unsuccessful.