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Lagniappe Academies seeks refund for water bills it paid

Lagniappe Academies will be contacting the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board about refunds for bills the agency has been sending to the school since October 2010, a top school official told The Lens.

Chief Operations Officer Ninh Tran said that after reading an article by The Lens, he learned that the school might have been unfairly charged for nearly $9,000 in sewerage and water bills.

“We were like, ‘Hey, wait a minute,’” Tran said about the article, which mentioned Lagniappe Academies.

The type 5 charter school has been charged between $3,000 and $3,500 a year for services since 2010, he said.

Under state law, New Orleans public schools are allowed four gallons of water per person per day for free. The Sewerage and Water Board is allowed to charge for any consumption above that.

That legislation went into effect in 1993, when the city’s schools were still a unified district. But after Hurricane Katrina, the Board stopped collecting revenue from any public school in the city.

Lagniappe Academies was one of three that Sewerage and Water Board Deputy Counsel Brian A. Ferrara said had paid for water use from 2006 to present.

“In those cases a credit has been or will be issued for the amounts paid over the cap,” Ferrara told The Lens last week.

But Tran said that, so far, he hadn’t heard anything from the Sewerage and Water Board about the money the school had been charged.

He added that Lagniappe Academies was charged an extra $22,000 when the school first moved into their location on 1501 St. Louis St. because there weren’t any water pipes in the area, and they had to get them installed.

“We’re hoping to get some of that money back,” Tran added. “It’s not like we’re in an isolated area.”

He said that a Winn-Dixie used to be in the school’s parking lot.

At first, Tran wondered if the school’s unique property situation had anything to do with the fact that Lagniappe Academies was being charged for services that were free for most schools.

The school owns its own modulars – mobile buildings that are used as temporary solutions until they get a permanent space. They’ve rented the land where they put the buildings, Tran said.

But that wouldn’t necessarily matter, according to Ken Ducote, a facilities consultant who works with several charter organizations in the city. He used to be the facility director for the Orleans Parish School Board.

“It has nothing to do with who owns the land – it has to do with who owns the account,” Ducote added.

The Lagniappe account is in the school’s name. However, Ducote said, schools are responsible for applying for their own exemption.

According to a an Attorney General’s opinion, in addition to Orleans Parish School Board-run schools, those that have a type 1, 3, 4 or 5 charter qualify for the free cap of four gallons per person. They are qualified as New Orleans public schools because of their affiliation with the OPSB or the RSD, which have been given the same “powers and authority that schools under OPSB enjoyed.”

Type 2 charter schools are run by BESE and take students from all across the state.

Tran told The Lens that Lagniappe Academies is a type 5 charter, and that the school’s name does appear on the bills.

This news comes on the heels of a July announcement from the Sewerage and Water Board that it will start sending bills to all of the charter organizations in the city for the water used over the monthly cap, marking the first time that many charters will have to budget for the expense.

Tran says that if he’s going to continue to pay, he wants the scores to be even first.

“I want the issue out in the open now,” Tran said. “This isn’t chump change. We’d like to use the money for our students.”

Marta Jewson contributed reporting to this article.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the school paid $3,000 to $3,500 per month for water. Those figures were yearly amounts.

 

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