St. Helena employees say school system cheated out of $2 million
ST. HELENA PARISH, La (FOX44) -- The Louisiana Department of Education has kept more than $2 million from the St. Helena School System, according to a lawsuit filed by several St. Helena Parish school employees.
Right now, St. Helena parish has a sales tax that helps support the school system. The tax is supposed to go primarily towards teacher salaries and fixing up the schools. According the recently filed lawsuit, the tax is supposed to be extra money on top of the state's Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP. Instead, the lawsuit alleges the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has taken the local sales tax revenue out of the MFP and given the parish less money.
"St. Helena's portion that they get out of the state has been reduced by two-thirds," says attorney, Brian Blackwell with Blackwell and Associates. "But they're still expected to run two schools."
Blackwell says the formula BESE has been to calculate the MFP is illegal under statute LSA-R.S. 33:2737. "The statute says you don't use the sales tax revenue in your calculation," he says. "The formula clearly uses sales tax revenue in its calculation."
That formula is approved by state superintendent Paul Pastorek, and the state's joint committe on the budget. Blackwell says over the past four years, St. Helena has been cheated out of $2 million. He says that would go a long way to helping the school system fix some of their serious problems.
St. Helena, however, isn't the only school affected, according to Blackwell. He estimates that the state owes school districts all over Lousiana almost three billion dollars in total. He believes if this case is successful, there could be similar lawsuits filed in other parishes.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education says they are aware that a lawsuit has been filed, but they haven't been served yet. She issued this statement in response to the lawsuit:
“Although we have heard from media reports that a lawsuit has been filed, the Louisiana Department of Education has not been formally served and thus we cannot issue a response to the lawsuit at this time. While the Louisiana Department of Education has been in constant contact with school leaders in St. Helena over the last several months, this is the first time this issue has been brought to our attention. We remain committed to helping St. Helena schools as we work together to identify resources to benefit students in the parish.”
To take a look at the statute mentioned within the lawsuit, check out http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=89853
You can also see a full copy of the lawsuit attached below.