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Rising costs have SciHigh leaders wondering whether to drop state pension plan

With employee retirement costs inching up and federal funding in question, leaders at New Orleans Science and Mathematics High are gearing up for a challenging financial landscape in 2013-14.

Based on the school’s current salaries for fiscal 2014 — which runs from July 2013 to June 2014 — SciHigh will see an increase of $60,500 in retirement expenses, school Director of Finance Claudia Kent said.

Sci High is a member of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, where employer contribution rates are expected to increase from 24.5 percent to 27.2 percent.

When applied to actual costs, Kent estimated a jump from $552,000 a year to $612,500.

At a March 21 board meeting Kent explained that when Sci High opened in 2006 retirement costs made up 6 percent of the school’s total expenses. Next year that number could be between 14 and 15 percent, she said.

Only once a final budget is completed will the exact cost be calculated. A draft of the budget is due to the Orleans Parish School Board by April 19, with reviews held for the public and board of directors in June.

Co-Principal Chana Benenson said administrators will discuss the program and cost increases with faculty get feedback about whether or not the school should remain a member of the plan.

She said it’s important to explain to teachers that one reason they may be lacking certain tangible resources is due to the “unseen” expense that comes with this specific retirement option.

“Most charter schools are not a part of TRSL, and we don’t have many teachers that have been in the system a long, long time,” Benenson said. “We need to have a conversation with faculty and move forward. We do have options.”

Involvement in the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana program is not written into Sci High’s charter so the school is not required to remain a member.

The school could save about $250,000 a year if replaced with a comparable retirement plan, board treasurer Jim Schneiders said.

Schneiders suggested these savings could be going towards teacher salaries instead.

Kent listed the difference as: schools not involved in the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana pay an average of 5 to 6 percent of total expenses on retirement, while schools that are enrolled in the program pay an average of 11 to 12 percent.’

Kent also went over the anticipated loss in funding due to sequestration at the federal level.

Schools can expect to lose between $30,000 and $100,000 from next year’s budget, Kent said.

According to information passed on by the Eastbank Collaborative, of which Sci High is a member, the hit could equate to a loss of 5 to 8 percent of federal Title program funds.

The meeting ran from 4:33 p.m. to 5:22 p.m. The next scheduled board of director’s meeting is April 18.

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  • nickelndime

    When it comes to finance and cutting costs, the state teachers’ retirement system question always pops up (TRSL). How about NOT paying the tuition for the 2 uncertified administrators the board put in (after that lame excuse for an executive session)? And I have another suggestion, contact the OPSB (through Deputy Superintendent of the Charter School Office – Padian) and ask what the OPSB’s position is (as the charter authorizer) with regard to maintaining participation in the TRSL (employee and employer) and what is written in the charter. Padian won’t know, but it is wise to put it through her with copies to the OPSB via email. But, I would make THE LENS phone call first.
    Good job, Erin. Stay on this group.