This decision comes as a result of a 20 percent decline in sales tax dollars, as well as a $2.5 million increase, or about a 5 percent increase, in the state retirement system.
“The Board directed the staff to come to the Board with some suggestions to modify and tighten the budget,” Chief Financial Officer Phil Sellers said. “We saw some extraordinary reductions in revenues, and down the road, we were anticipating increases in expenditures. Oil and gas revenues began to fall, and they continued to fall through the last couple of months. Sales tax really dropped off, and we saw an increases in expenditures.”
At the July 7 special meeting, Sellers presented the board with five options that could balance the budget and help pay for the increase in retirement.
The five options included taking the 13th check from employees and placing it in their benefits for retirement, reducing salary schedules by 2.5 percent, reducing employee staff by an additional 30 employees, closing schools or using the fund balance.
According to Sellers, the recommended option was using the 13th check to help pay for some of the retirement fund increase.
“This is the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make as a board member. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights over this issue,” Board Member Ricky Broussard said.
Board Member Anthony Fontana made a motion to take the 1998 millage to fund a portion of the state-mandated increase in employee contribution to the retirement fund for the 2010-2011 year.
The School Board will shift the money generated from a 1998-1999 property tax from the 13th check into the retirement fund. The average teacher’s 13th check has been around 2 percent of his or her salary, or about $800.
Before the vote, the floor was open for discussion in front of a crowd of about 300.
“The VAE will continue to fight to maintain the integrity of the VAE–Vermilion Parish School Board contract,” Vermilion Association of Educator’s President Jason Roy said. “The VAE leadership strongly believes that the issue is not as simple as the 13th check. The true issue is the contract itself, and that it protects the salaries and benefits of the employees. We will take the appropriate actions to seek relief as outlined by the contract.”
According to Sellers, the finalized budget must be approved by state law by Sept. 15 and submitted to the state by Sept. 30.
Many of those in the audience requested that the Board table the vote because the budget is not due for a little over eight weeks.(Abbeville Meridional)