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Amid benefits uncertainties, board tells staff: We're not going to leave you in the lurch

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that board president Cassandra Bookman did not say the quote previously attributed to her. It has also been amended and corrected to reflect key points about teachers retirement benefits. 

The Algiers Charter School Association met Tuesday night with a crowd of about 100 parents, teachers, and community members to discuss the transition to new management of both Alice M. Harte Elementary and Edna Karr High School. Of particular concern: what happens to employee benefits at those schools, as well as teacher benefits at all ACSA schools.

Solid facts were few and far between, with board members conceding that they are no clearer on repercussions of the Orleans Parish School Board’s decision than are school faculty and staff.

“We are extremely concerned about the teachers losing benefits, income, and/or insurance and are committed to assist the faculty and staff in this period of uncertainty. Therefore, we would like to see more written information from OPSB regarding their plan to transition the schools,” the board said in an announcement today.

Many in the audience shared the board’s concern.

“We need information about what is going to happen to us. I’m feeling a little disappointed. My need for clarity is not being met,” said a teacher at Edna Karr who identified herself as “Ms. H.”

Regarding benefits for all ACSA employees, not just those at the transitioning schools, the board made it clear they had not yet made any final decisions.

ACSA spokesman David Jackson said in a Friday interview that while the board isn’t sure whether health insurance benefits will change for employees at Harte and Karr, teachers’ retirement benefits should stay the same. 

Harte and Karr are the ACSA’s only Type 4 charters, which means that the local school board plays a significantly larger role in their governance. When ACSA announced a change in retirement benefits for its schools last October, Harte and Karr were the only ones not affected. The Orleans Parish School Board is required by law to pay into the Teacher’s Retirement System of Louisiana, and Type 4 charters are considered employees of the school board. 

NOTE: The above has been included to provide background on teacher retirement options at the two schools. 

In an executive session during the meeting, board member Diana Fuchs was appointed chairwoman of a new committee to oversee the schools’ transition to new management. And in a decision that won’t apply to the school-board-employed Harte and Karr faculty, the board also announced it will form committees of five to seven teachers, community members, and parents to meet with the school principal each of its schools’ principals and  determine, based on the financial health of the each school, whether to continue participating in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. As referenced in earlier reports, the board has had conflicting impulses in regards to retirement throughout the year.

NOTE: The above has been corrected to reflect that retirement decisions won’t affect Harte and Karr. It has also been edited for brevity. 

“We have your back … We’re not going to leave you in the lurch,” board president Cassandra Bookman Fuchs said.

NOTE: Board president Cassandra Bookman was not present at the meeting, and thus did not say the above quote. 

Meetings of these committees will begin on March 13 at Martin Behrman Elementary School and will finish by the end of the month. All meetings will be announced on the school website as they are scheduled. Each committee will make a recommendation to the board about whether to remain in the retirement system. The board will consider the input during its April budgeting sessions.

Teachers retirement aside, the future of ACSA’s schools and teacher retirement remain uncertain. “Just as you’re looking for clarity, we’re looking for clarity, too,” board member Charles Rice said.

NOTE: The above has been amended and deleted to signify that teachers retirement is not uncertain at all of ACSA’s schools. 

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