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Teachers fight layoffs as board targets deficits

The board salutes students associated with their school newspaper. Photo by Alex Belser

Just outside the gates of the navy base that was formerly a pillar of the Algiers neighborhood, teachers wonder what their future might be in a rapidly changing school system.

The Algiers Charter School Association, which now runs eight schools in the community, is looking to cut 30 positions to keep a balanced budget and could end participation in the state retirement system, starting next fall.

Some employees want to know whether they need to look for work elsewhere to avoid a break their service record.

“It is the house that many of our family members have worked many, many years to build,” Behrman Academy counselor Shanelle Blunt said at the Association’s Dec. 8 monthly meeting. “Please, let’s seek other ways of moving through these financially lean times.”

Larry Carter, president of United Teachers of New Orleans, a local union, presented board members with 600 signatures from teachers and others supporting “experienced teachers.”

About half of the Association’s teachers were carried over from old schools, unlike other charter schools where newcomers predominate.  “This is the first charter group that has so many employees involved that have paid into the system,” Carter told The Lens.

Under heavy pressure, board members in October reinstated the retirement program for the rest of the current school year, but next year’s benefits are still in jeopardy.

Budget director Charlie Mackles said many schools are running a deficit, including Algiers Technology Academy ($284,000), Eisenhower Academy ($565,000), Behrman Academy ($443,000), Edna Karr High ($406,000), O. Perry Walker ($660,000), and Alice Harte Charter ($218,000).

Cassandra Bookman, the board’s president, told The Lens that projections for the system’s 5,000-student enrollment were too high, a problem given that much of a school’s funding is based on actual student counts.  Now school leaders hope to balance the system’s $55 million budget by reducing payrolls.

In other developments, the Association expects the Recovery School District to merge Walker and L.B. Landry, and is awaiting a BESE decision on Landry’s charter that could come any day now.

“It is expected that all parties involved will meet in the coming weeks,” Andrea Thomas-Reynolds, the Association’s chief executive officer, said.

Algiers Technology

Academy’s charter has been renewed for three years, the board learned. Reynolds said Behrman Academy and Eisenhower Academy are eligible to return to the Orleans Parish School Board in July, should they choose to do so, but the district will hold off on any changes for now.

“There remains a lack of clarity and transparency on what this option entails,” Thomas-Reynolds said. For one thing, it is unclear if this year’s scores will be used, which could also make O. Perry Walker eligible.

The district hired consultant Aamir Raza, a former employee of New York City’s public school system, to meet with some principals and determine goals for the future.  Raza said the schools are now using computer data as an integral part of their decision making.

Art and music students will appear at a fundraising event focused on jazz and art at the Sheraton Hotel on Apr. 20.

Staff and board members read reports from their committee meetings and congratulated newspaper and debate students along with sports teams before adjourning the 45-minute meeting.  



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