Stimulus money ‘dried up' in Lafayette Parish schools

by Heather Miller

Lafayette Parish school system trying to cope with millions of dollars in additional retirement contributions and the end of $16 million in federal stimulus money

An already tight budget for Lafayette Parish schools will bring even tougher funding decisions to Lafayette Parish School Board members when they begin budget workshops next month - as the last of the $16 million in federal stimulus money used by the school district over the past two years is gone.

According to a report by Marsha Sills published Monday in The Advocate, the School Board - already faced with an additional $6 million in contribution to the state's retirement system during this year's budget process - has relied on $7.5 million in Title I stimulus money and $8.5 million in stimulus education money to fund the district's newest preschool classes and an extended learning program that offers additional tutoring and enrichment to students after school.

But with the loss of the millions in federal stimulus dollars - and little optimism that the state will offer additional program money due to a BESE-approved freeze on school spending levels - the school system is looking into alternative funding sources while the School Board preps itself to make the ultimate decisions on which programs will continue receiving funding and whether any programs will be eliminated:

For the past two years, eight of the district's 50 preschool classes have been funded by nearly $1.9 million in Title 1 stimulus funds. The additional funding made it possible for the district to expand its program to 3-year-olds.

The ... stimulus funds also paid for four of the dozen school sites that offered extended learning programs - after school enrichment and tutoring - and summer remediation for fourth- and eighth-graders who failted the LEAP test. LEAP remediation is a state requirement, but districts don't receive additional funding to operate the sessions. The report points out that last year, the school system entered its fiscal year with a $14 million deficit, which forced the School Board to streamline some programs and increase the student-teacher ratio. Those attempts, however, were not enough to make ends meet - and the board was forced to dip in to more than $5 million of its reserve fund.