Aug 20, 2013 4:00 PM by Dwayne Fatherree

Lafayette Schools targeting parish public health surplus

As it seeks new revenues, the Lafayette Parish School System is reaching out to the Lafayette Consolidated Government for some untouched cash in the parish Office of Public Health's account.

A special meeting between the Lafayette Parish School Board and the LCG council has been set up for Aug. 28 with the only discussion item listed as "Collaboration among the Lafayette Consolidated Government, Lafayette Parish School System, and Office of Public Health regarding utilization of OPH millage."

At the center of that discussion lies a pot of approximately $8 million in money collected through a millage for public health services in Lafayette that has accrued over the years.

LCG Council Chairman Brandon Shelvin said the Lafayette Parish School System wants to use the joint meeting to make a presentation to the council. The proposal is to open three clinics -- one at Acadiana High School, one at Lafayette High School and a third at Comeaux High. At least part of the funding for those three clinics, if the council approves it, would come from the public health millage surplus.

"This is not something the LCG administration could do without council approval," Shelvin said. "If we tried to piecemeal this, meeting with two or three people here or there, it would not work. We need to get everyone at the table at one to discuss the issue."

According to Shelvin, the Lafayette Parish Schools System's administration approached the LCG administration to propose the sharing of the public health revenues. That initial discussion developed into next week's proposed joint meeting.

"That money has to be used specifically for public health care, so we want to have a discussion with the school board to see what sort of commitment the school board is willing to participate in," Shelvin said. "Will it be one-time money, or continuing? At this point, it's a fluid situation."

Aside from deciding whether or not to participate in a partnership to use the funds, there is also the legal issue of how money taken through a millage, earmarked specifically for public health services, could be funneled into the LPSS budget.

"They would have to work out some sort of system to transfer it, some sort of arrangement" Lafayette Parish Assessor Conrad Comeaux said. "LCG could hire the nurses or hire the personnel to staff the clinics, or use a contract for services, an intergovernmental agreement."

But according to Mark Babineaux, representative from School Board District District 1, the system is already using public-private partnerships to cover health needs in the schools and should continue to follow that model.

"We had one clinic that Opelousas General Hospital was doing at Carencro Middle and (Our Lady of ) Lourdes was running one at Northside High," said Babineaux.

Babineaux, like Comeaux, touched on the possible legal issues using funds from a dedicated millage for a different, if similar, purpose might cause.

"I think that if we were to use millage funds for a health initiative across the parish, it should be spread across all schools," Babineaux said. "If this was a school tax, I could understand that. But this was paid by all the people of the parish, including those with children in private schools."

LCG District 9 Councilman William Theriot, however, says the issue begs the question of how such a large surplus was allowed to build during a period of belt-tightening in other areas of the budget.

"We are being told that we have $8 million in the health unit fund, so it would appear that the people of Lafayette Parish have been overpaying for some time," Theriot said. "I think this windfall would be a great opportunity to cut taxes on the hard-working people of Lafayette."



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