Critical programs involving wellness and alternative discipline at Lafayette Parish schools could be compromised as the Lafayette Parish School Board considers how to reconcile the district's $23.5 million shortfall for the coming school year.

The board considered its budget page-by-page at a special meeting Thursday, where dozens of school representatives and community members filled the board room, spilling into the lobby and lingering late into the evening.

Superintendent Pat Cooper began the meeting with a statement in which he reiterated the necessity for a schools-tax referendum within two years, and he prodded the board for refusing to use the reserve and sales tax funds to make up for some of the deficit.

We're in dire straits.

“It seemed reasonable” to use the sales tax “to preserve jobs and teaching positions that would allow us to retain” lower student-teacher ratios, Cooper said.

Proposed cuts could affect nearly 300 positions by leaving 200 of them unfilled and 100 of them cut entirely.

"I don't think any of this stuff can be sugar coated," Cooper said. "We're in dire straits."

Some of the positions on the chopping block include assistant principals, instructional strategists, school resource and safety officers — which wouldn't be eliminated from D-rated schools — and 17 of the district's 33 social workers.

Cutting social workers “will take us back to numbers we have not seen in two decades,” said Bradley Cruice, director of health and wellness. “This will directly and negatively impact every student and every classroom."

Cruice said his department has increased services by 60 percent in the last year without increasing staffing needs. The proposed cuts could impact 4,000 direct services and 15,000 indirect services, he said.

Another program at risk is AMIkids, a partnership between the school district, Lafayette Consolidated Government and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office that targets at-risk students with severe behavioral and discipline problems.

Under the district's "Turnaround Plan," students are sent to the AMIkids program at N.P. Moss rather than face total expulsion from the school system.

Sheriff Mike Neustrom showed up at the meeting to speak in favor of keeping the program. He said it would be a tax-saving maneuver for the public, as it helps keep at-risk youth from turning into career criminals.

“It’s very expensive once a person gets to the age of adulthood,” Neustrom said.

About $10 million could be recovered by increasing the teacher-student ratios in both regular and special education classrooms. That number could go as high as 33-to-1 in the district's A, B and C schools.

Some cuts suggested by the board included nixing the board's travel, dues and subscription budget, along with the district's public relations arm and cell-phone reimbursements for the employees who receive them.

A new budget timeline presented Thursday gives the board until August 4 to present a budget proposal for public inspection.

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