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Budget cuts stem flow of red ink after unanticipated revenue shortfall

The board of directors of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans voted Monday to cut more than $200,000 from the charter school’s 2012-13 budget, after members learned the school was operating at a deficit of $85,000.

The board went into a closed session to discuss how it would move forward in light of news that school leader Jean-Jacques Grandiere is ill and won’t return until Nov. 18.

Board president Jean Montes said that in light of budget revisions and other urgent issues, it might be necessary to “look for a couple of people to take the lead on an interim basis as he tries to recover. It’s a very difficult time for us.”

More than 150 parents attended Monday’s monthly board meeting, with one parent asking the board to wait on the budget revisions vote until Grandiere can be consulted.

Lycee financial director Julianne Ruocco said the budget shortfall came from the school not getting expected revenue and also from spending money not allocated in the original budget.

“It’s a matter of spending more than you take in,” she said.

Ruocco said the school needs to make up for a revenue shortfall of about $250,000.

She said the projected budget overestimated the amount of revenue the school would get from the state. Additionally, Lycee had less students enrolled than expected, another hit to its planned revenue.

Ruocco said that not all students have paid their fees for materials and field trips. About $7,000 in fees is outstanding, she said.

In addition, a budgeted $200,000 grant ended up being about half that amount, Ruocco said.

Several school expenditures were not anticipated in the projected budget, Ruocco said, including salaries for additional employees and costs associated with the school’s new lunch service and after-school programs. Ruocco said the school lunch program costs $10,000 a month.

Under the revised budget, the after-school and lunchtime duties will be taken over by salaried teachers currently on staff.

Another way to remedy the budget shortfall includes changing the school staff’s health insurance from a no-deductible plan to a low-deductible plan. The school will also tighten its belt by spending less on materials and by out-sourcing janitorial services. In another move, the school’s $90,000 reserve fund could be moved into its operating budget.

“If the board accepts the proposed revisions, we will be solvent and in the black at the end of the year and moving forward, even stronger,” Ruocco said, noting that the school plans to add a third grade next year. “We’re going to really have to live by this budget and stick to it,” she added.

During public comment, several parents asked that no teaching staff be laid off, a  suggestion that was met with a round of applause.

Without discussing specifics, board member Dan Henderson said it’s in the board’s interest to keep the educational standards of the school intact.

“I can’t imagine we’d reduce the effectiveness of the teaching staff here,” he said. “There may be some shuffling around. I don’t know if administration has figured out an answer, but my vote is that any cuts at all cannot reduce the effectiveness of the education that takes place at this school.”

The next board meeting will be Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Patton Street campus.

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