Dr. King Charter School isn’t going to switch to Orleans Parish School Board governance – at least not right now.
The board that runs the school decided as much at its meeting Tuesday. The Friends of King Schools’ board also discussed a loan from one of its schools to another, and went into a 20-minute executive session to discuss anticipated litigation against the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Board members also violated the state’s open meetings law during the meeting by not soliciting public comment before taking three votes, as required by the law.
Though the board voted on the parish school board return issue and discussed a potential lawsuit Tuesday, those items weren’t listed on the agenda posted on the organization’s website prior to the meeting. While nothing in the state’s Open Meetings Law prohibits a board from voting to amend its agenda at the meeting, board members must call for public comment before doing so.
Board president Hilda Young apologized for not including the two items shortly after calling the meeting to order.
“I guess it just slipped my mind, with so much going on after the holidays,” she told the board. Shortly after, the board voted to add the two items to the agenda – but board members didn’t ask for public comment. They also didn’t call for comment before they later voted to let Young and board treasurer George Rabb sign what appeared to be an audit questionnaire, an action that wasn’t listed on the agenda. Nor did they call for comment before they voted to go into executive session.
Despite the late agenda change, Orleans Parish School Board Charter Office Administrator Sean Perkins was on hand to answer the board’s questions about a governance switch. Dr. King Charter School is the only one of Friends of King’s two schools eligible to move. Schools become eligible after they spend at least four years in the state-run district and are not failing.
The concerns school officials lobbed at Perkins were the same ones other charter board members have voiced at their meetings: concern over the parish school board’s lack of a superintendent and whether schools will be able to keep their weighted special education funding.
“Because we have a large enrollment of special-ed students in one of our schools, that presents a major concern,” Young said.
Per state policy, RSD’s per-pupil funding is based on the severity of each child’s disability. But OPSB charters and other traditional schools around the state all get the same amount of funding for each special-needs student.
OPSB Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools Kathleen Padian said Wednesday that a new law that lets charters keep their local education agency status also lets them keep their funding.
Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Barry Landry said Thursday that charters returning to the school board will receive weighted special education funding, but it hasn’t been determined whether it will be the same as they received under the RSD.
At the meeting, Perkins also said that a new superintendent should be in place before next school year. Still, the assurances weren’t enough to sway board members into the parish school board’s arms. King’s board unanimously voted not to switch, although board members said they will revisit the issue next year.
When the conversation turned to finances, board treasurer George Rabb and Director of Finance Shawne Favre mentioned the board’s October decision to transfer $705,000 from King charter to the organization’s other school, Joseph A. Craig Charter School, to help cover a near-$850,000 general fund deficit. Since then, state education department officials told Friends of King that they weren’t permitted to make such a transfer, Favre said. Instead, one school must loan the money to the other.
This is likely because both schools are considered separate local educational agencies for funding purposes. Landry told The Lens in October that money may be transferred between two such entities only in certain circumstances.
King’s no-interest, $705,000 loan to Craig has a 10-year payback period.
Although school officials have continuously referenced a near-$850,000 general fund deficit at Craig, an annual budget school officials submitted to the state also mentioned a special-funds deficit of $250,000, for a total deficit last year of nearly $1.1 million.
When asked whether the special-funds deficit still exists and how it is being addressed, Young, CEO Doris Roché-Hicks and Washington didn’t respond; however, budget documents indicate that a projected 2013-2014 budget surplus of about $363,000 would lower the total deficit to about $735,000. If the $705,000 King loan were applied to that balance, it would leave the school with a $30,000 deficit.
Toward the end of the meeting, the board voted to go into executive session to discuss anticipated litigation against the state’s charter school association. Its decision to do so comes shortly after the association’s executive director, Caroline Roemer Shirley, questioned Friends of King and one other charter group’s decision to attend professional development retreats outside of New Orleans and criticized Washington in a Lens report.
The board swiftly adjourned the meeting without taking any public action once the executive session was over.
The board’s next meeting is Feb. 11 at noon at King.
This story was updated after publication to include Landry’s comments Thursday about special-ed funding. (Dec. 12, 2013)