How the school board manages its $238 million general fund budget

Darian Graivshark

Public education can be pricey for a district, and that money has to come from somewhere.

On February 11, Ascension Parish School Board held a webinar with Superintendent David Alexander, as well as Director of Business Services Diane Allison, who both spoke on the use of their budget and where they receive funding.

"We receive funding not only from the state and federally, but locally as well. We shouldn't underestimate the contributions that residents make to the school system, because it really does make a difference," Alexander said.

Allison said, "Five percent of funding comes from state grants or other, twenty-four percent comes from the parish ad valorem tax, which has been on the books since the 1990's. Then, twenty-seven percent comes from the parish sales and use tax. This means two percent of local sales taxes go directly to school funding. Taxes are very volatile, so we have to watch them closely. The other forty-four percent comes from state minimum foundation program funds."

$238 million dollars of funding is used on free and appropriate education, as well as for students with special needs. $24 million dollars of that funding in 2018 was specifically used for facilities, which includes maintenance, insurance, and utilities. Funding is also used on extra-curricular activities, like the band, as well as improvements to sport fields. This also includes school staff, software technology, and school libraries.

"We use $238 million dollars in general funding alone. This means, on average, we use about $19.9 million dollars per month in our schools. Seventy-nine percent has been used on salaries and benefits, twelve percent has been used on purchased services, like audits and copy machine rentals, and nine percent has been used on materials, supplies, and equipment," Allison said.

The process that funding goes through begins with Directors of a department letting the Finance department knowing what they need. Then, the superintendent will begin drafting a budget. Finally, a public hearing is held before the School Board adopts a budget in June. Budget drafting is usually done around May.

However, there are always budget limitations for 2019. Over the past three years, there have been plenty of changes to curriculum, which required $9.3 million dollars in spending for new textbooks, for example. The cost is that pricey when it includes curriculum for ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies.

"Challenges that we may face when it comes to the budget is, of course, not having enough resources." Allison said. "So sometimes people may not get what they requested due to a limited budget.

"Many of the costs also rise every year. Additionally, our fund balance 'cushion' decreased, because we had to pay for flood recovery costs from the flooding in 2016. Finally, sales taxes change every month."

The budget documents are available for the public to view online at in the Business Services section. It is, however, over 170 pages long.

Pages to look for include 40 and 41, which includes budget highlights, and 52 and 53, which has summaries of the budgets. The document includes organization charts, financial policies, and timelines, amongst many other resources and information.

The budget for the district has won the Distinguished Budget Award for the years 2013-2014 and 2016-2017.

Follow Darian on Twitter @dariangshark.