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Board hopes for increased enrollment, considers possible locations for new campus

At the monthly Morris Jeff Community School board meeting Thursday, Principal Patricia Perkins said the school met its goal for 275 students, as of the official Oct.1 count. To accommodate the growth, board members considered an array of temporary locations, ranging from the West Bank to New Orleans East. The school is scheduled to move to the former Fisk-Howard school on South Rendon Street in July 2014, after construction on the permanent campus is complete.

Enrollment and the composition of classes may change slightly after the official count. Perkins expects special education students to increase, as some students are still being evaluated. For the grades that still have openings, Perkins anticipates the spots will be filled quickly with students on wait lists.

Perkins and the board have researched a wide variety of options for a new temporary location. One option was to share a campus on the West Bank with Harriet Tubman Charter School; another was a donated commercial space in an as-yet undisclosed location in the New Orleans East. If the school remained at the current location, the pre-kindergarten class would need to be moved elsewhere. Principal Perkins recommended the last option, emphasizing, “This school is meant for mid-city.”

Previously the board had some financial concerns about staying in the same location. FEMA now pays the monthly rent of $43,000. The lease ends this school year, however, and rent will then come out of the school’s budget.

The board anticipates some savings, though, due to recent changes in regulations for Type II charter schools. Also, the Orleans Parish School Board will no longer be able to use a percentage of the school’s per-student funding to pay off bond debt. Board members hope to negotiate a continued lease from the savings, albeit lower than the FEMA rate.

Perkins expressed concern about discussing student performance data publicly, citing child privacy issues, especially with very small classes. In order to develop student performance, the board opted to address the topic in development meetings, which are closed. With information on the number of students performing at or below grade level, the board could determine if staff changes are necessary. A couple of teachers would also attend the board development sessions.

The board then scheduled closed development sessions on student assessment and performance on Nov. 12; special education development on Dec. 11; and a school and school leader evaluation for sometime in January.

The principal moved on to students receiving free or reduced lunch. The percentage is lower than last year – 55%-60% of students now are in the program, compared with 63% then. The uncertainty range is due to applications still in progress for that program.

The previous week’s gala fundraiser was deemed a success by the board. Though final numbers weren’t yet in, several members were happy with both ticket sales and auction items.

Treasurer Melissa Jagers noted that revenue still appeared a bit behind, but would improve once she had submitted invoices for title and IDEA reimbursements. The month saw net income nonetheless, partly due to improved collections for the Explorers program. Jagers said that auditors are coming next week, and as there was little to no deficit for the previous year, she did not anticipate having to release any funds from restrictions.

In the wake of the conviction of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, it is now a felony if a staff member suspects abuse and does not report it. The school is arranging trainings for staff and volunteers to keep them apprised of this new legislation.

The 6:30 p.m. meeting adjourned at 7:57 p.m. The next meeting will be Nov. 15.

Finance and operations director Jared Frank attended the meeting. Other board members present were president Aesha Rasheed, Stacey Gengel, Jolene Jeff, Jennifer Weishaupt, and vice president Wanda Anderson-Guillaume. Secretary Belinda Cambre and Jana Smith were absent. The audience consisted of a reporter from The Lens.

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