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Transportation deal brings new flexibility, raises funding questions

At their August 9 meeting, the board governing New Orleans Science and Math High School learned of positive increases in both enrollment numbers and year-end net assets. Last minute changes to the school’s transportation and food service providers were also announced.

Claire Jecklin, Director of Academics, briefed the board on the latest enrollment figures for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 13. A total of 401 students are enrolled, broken down as follows: 96 ninth-graders; 90 tenth-graders; 100 eleventh-graders, and 115 twelfth-graders.

Jecklin called 96 “a beautiful number for the ninth grade,” noting that it is 35 more students than last year’s freshman class. Jecklin attributed the increase to the recent opening of the freshman and sophomore wait lists.

The school’s new Finance and Business Manager, Claudia Kent, gave a brief finance report.

“I am very happy to say that we ended the year in the black by $257,000,” she said. “We’ve submitted our budget to the Orleans Parish School Board, and there won’t be any big adjustments on the revenue side, but possibly on the expense side due to transportation.”

A new contract has been signed with Barry Busing to provide the school’s transportation.

Director of Student Development, Chana Benenson explained that the original idea of sharing buses with Sophie B. Wright Charter School did not pan out, and that “this new contract is a much better solution for us.”

The school will have three dedicated buses, enabling the school to maintain its preferred bell schedule which begins at 8 a.m..

Two buses will remain at the school throughout the day, allowing for freedoms that would be unavailable in a shared transportation arrangement.

Benenson lauded the professionalism and motivation shown by Barry Busing. “The drivers have been calling homes to remind families of pick-up times, I’ve never seen something like that from a company before,” he said.

Treasurer Jim Schneiders expressed concerns about the cost of the new busing arrangement, and referred to his previous conversations with the finance committee.

“Busing on this level is not in the budget, we need additional funding. There is cash flow to cover it now, but that puts pressure on us to find a funding source to make up for it,” Schneiders said.

Schneiders noted that if school enrollment reached 425 students, it would “probably bring in enough revenue to solve the issue,” however, he warned, “betting on that happening is not the way to go.”

Board Chairwoman Mary Zervigon raised the issue of parking space for the buses, and Benenson assured her that the company had reached out to neighboring homes and businesses to find a suitable solution for everyone.

In other changes, the school’s food service is now being authorized by KIPP and provided by Sodexo.  Benenson said she  anticipates much higher participation in the program, and is excited that the school now has a say on the menu.

Ms. Jecklin introduced the board to her seven-member Academic Leadership Team, and applauded their hard work over the summer in preparation for the new school year.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board went into an executive session to discuss “personnel matters.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13.

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