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Pension debate triggers outcry at board meeting; performance scores run the gamut

Directors of the Algiers Charter Schools Association gathered Oct. 27 for a monthly meeting that drew a capacity crowd of over 200.

The board called the meeting to order at 4:40 p.m. and confirmed they had a quorum.

The first item of business was a successful motion to proceed directly to discussion of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. The meeting’s large turnout was the result of efforts by the association to withdraw from the retirement program because of rising costs, a move that many teachers oppose.

Providing a financial backdrop to the discussion, Chief Executive Officer Andrea Thomas-Reynolds and Director of Budget and Revenue Charlie Mackles noted that start-up dollars are disappearing at many charter schools while costs are rising, among them the cost of TRSL participation.

Mackle attributed  a 2011-12 budget shortfall of $1.52 million to lowered enrollment.  Current enrollment is 5,132 students, down 181 from ACSA’s original projection of 5,323 students. Meanwhile, the association’s contribution to TRSL has been steadily increasing, from $5.1 million in 2008-9 to a projected $7.1 million this year.

The administration’s timeline of events showed they submitted their charter contracts to the Office of Parental Options at the end of May.  These contracts included an option to quit TRSL and make staff part of the federal Social Security system, effective July 1. At their July meeting, however, the board voted to remain in TRSL, unaware that their contracts had already been processed and that the association’s teachers had been removed from the program.

Thinking they were still part of TRSL, the administration paid into the system for the month of September.  After the Oct. 15 pay period, staff were unable to access their online accounts because they had been assigned new IDs when the switch was made from TRSL. Word of the change spread rapidly as staff, finally able to access their account information, saw that they were paying into Social Security rather than TRSL.

Thomas-Reynolds and Mackles listed some pros and cons of remaining with TRSL. They said participating in the more expensive program would mean lower wages for staff and possible layoffs. Quitting TRSL assures no changes to staff structure for the 2012-13 school year while an alternative retirement option is developed.

The board made a motion to open the floor for discussion.  ACSA bylaws allow each member of the public three minutes to speak during the public-comment period.

Sentiment among teachers and parents who spoke up was overwhelmingly in favor of staying in TRSL.  Many speakers expressed anger and frustration over the seemingly secretive nature of the decision-making and the failure to clearly inform employees about the change.

Anita Dennis, an English teacher at O. Perry Walker College and Career Prep High School, called out the administration for not keeping teachers involved in the decision-making process.  Her comment drew cheers from the audience.

After 40 minutes of public comment, the board voted unanimously to stay with TRSL until June 30.  The board announced it would accept additional public comment after completing the rest of the meeting’s agenda.

In her CEO report, Thomas-Reynolds announced the association members’ school performance scores.  Martin Behrman and Edna Karr each received a B-plus.  Alice Harte and O. Perry Walker each received a C-plus.  W. J. Fischer and Algiers Technology Academy each received D-plus.  Eisenhower received a D and McDonogh 32 an F. (A plus indicates progress toward improvement goals.)

The meeting adjourned at 5:54 p.m. Some board members stayed for another half hour to take questions from the public.



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