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School board sales taxes exceed projections

Meeting to be held tonight at Ruston High School auditorium
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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When the Lincoln Parish School Board meets in person tonight for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, it will hear a sales tax report that’s much less negative than previously projected.

With Louisiana’s stay-at-home order shuttering many businesses from mid-March to mid-May, school board officials had expected April sales tax collections to plummet by anywhere from 40-60% compared to last year. But new figures show the year-to-year decrease for April was only some 13%.

“It’s an interesting time when being down 13% is a po sitive for us,” Superintendent Mike Milstead said.

The board will convene at 6 p.m. today in the Ruston High School auditorium to encourage social distancing after conducting its past two meetings by teleconference during the stay-at-home order, which was lifted May 15. The meeting will still be streamed live on the board’s Facebook page.

Collections from the school district’s four half-cent sales taxes in April came out to a little over $1.1 million — down about $180,206 from last year.

That’s actually a slightly smaller decrease year-to-year than the one recorded in March, when the stay-at-home order was only in effect for about two weeks.

With one more month of collections left for the 2019-20 fiscal year, Milstead said it’s still possible that some of the economic effects from the spring’s virus mitigation efforts are still to be reflected in future months’ reports.

“When I saw (April’s decrease), I thought, `Surely it’s got to be more than that,’” he said.

Total sales tax revenue for the fiscal year thus far is over $14.6 million, less than 2% down year-to-date from 2018-19. The district’s sales taxes are mainly used to supplement employee salaries and benefits.

In its last meeting, the board approved $800 and $400 cuts to the May salary supplement checks for certified and support staff, respectively, based on projected revenue losses. Board staff at the time said more cuts to the bonus checks may be needed in the coming years to balance the budget.

If the board’s tax funds continue to weather the virus storm as well as they have so far, Milstead said that may help future cuts from needing to be quite as severe.

The end-of-year deficit in those funds was projected back in April to be $1-1.5 million. But since then only less than $300,000 of that shortfall has emerged

“Hopefully we can keep it under half a million, and maybe even better than that,” Milstead said. “That would be lovely to see.”

Also on tap in the school board’s short agenda for tonight is approval of the 2020-21 salary schedules for all employees, with adjusted projections for the November and May supplement checks based on this year’s payments.