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Morris Jeff prepares for federal funding cuts in 2013-14 budget

Officials at Morris Jeff Community School are preparing for potential federal funding cuts during the 2013-14 fiscal year, they said during a Monday hearing on the school’s projected $3.9 million budget.

Grants based on Morris Jeff’s special education population — along with grants designed to help economically disadvantaged children and teacher development — have historically increased with the school’s population growth, said Jared Frank, the school’s director of finances and operations.

Next year, however, he fears that may not be the case – so he budgeted the school’s money accordingly.

“In theory, these grants should increase,” Frank said. “However, with the sequestration issues surround the federal government, there’s a lot of uncertainty about these programs.”

“Most everything I’ve read about it tells me these grants will decrease,” he added.

Rather than increase the budget to meet the growing population of kids who would benefit from the funds from these grants, Frank kept the revenue amount “flat” for next year’s budget.

Just like this past year, next year’s revenue is budgeted at $62,570 for special education grants, $99,716 for Title I grants and $12,851 for Title II grants.

Frank also said that he tried his best to budget for changes coming to the school next year.

That includes the school’s anticipated growth of 75 new students and the move into Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Mid-City.

For example, the school has budgeted for a staff increase, including three new classroom teachers, some special education positions, a speech therapist and a nurse who is anticipated to go from part time to full time, Frank said.

Proposed salary expenditures increased by 25 percent from about $1.6 million to about $2 million.

Additionally, the school budgeted for a school-based substitute teacher – a “floater” who could be there when needed, Frank said.

At the meeting, board member Jennifer Weishaupt asked about hiring an assistant principal.

Principal Patricia Perkins said that the school’s model doesn’t include an assistant principal, but that they would consider getting a dean of students in the future.

Frank also said that he had to do some guesswork when it came to budgeting for the school’s new building next year.

Under the “materials and supplies” expenditures, Frank accounted for a 30 percent increase in the utility costs.

Budgeted utilities expenditures jumped from $45,510 in the 2012-13 budget to $60,000 in next year’s proposed budget.

“We’ve been really good in this building with managing utilities,” Frank said, adding that officials were still waiting to learn more about how to manage utilities costs at the Mid-City location.

Next year’s location has window units, rather than central air and heat.

“I don’t know what the new building is going to be like,” he added. “I just budgeted a 30 percent increase.”

The school did not budget for new desks or for increased bus services, however.

Frank said he was told by the RSD that Morris Jeff would have access to desks and chairs next year as some of the district’s new schools get brand new furnishing.

“I’ve been told they’ll dole out some furniture to schools that are still growing,” Frank said. “That’s what we’re counting on.”

The big budget increase for materials and supplies is allotted for curriculum materials, Frank added. That budget increased by $10,000.

As far as buses are concerned, Perkins said she hoped that the school’s new “pedestrian” location would encourage students and parents to walk to school.

The school plans to keep three buses, the same as this past year, which Frank said was “fairly small,” but he thinks will work with the school’s population.

“Mid-City, the Bayou St. John area is our target population,” he said. “We’re having three buses, so we’re making it work one way or another. We’d rather have another teacher than a bus.”

At the end of the meeting, the board agreed to look over the budget for a little while longer before voting to approve it. The budget will remain at the front office for parents to come inspect.

Aside from Perkins, Frank, Jagers and Weishaupt, board president Aesha Rasheed was present.  Brandy Smith, an external member of the finance committee, was also present. The meeting lasted from 6 p.m. until about 7 p.m.

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