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Schools gain more discretion on spending; test scores call for more work

School leaders within the ReNEW network will have a bigger say in next year’s budgets, the ReNEW charter management organization announced at the monthly meeting of its board of directors, March 8.

ReNEW’s chief executive officer Gary Robichaux informed the board that school leaders planning for the upcoming year will be given a template with which to make decisions on such issues as transportation and faculty needs, based on projected enrollment. School leaders will be able to adjust about one-fourth of line items on the template, including technology and materials allowances. And changes to “fixed” line items are not out of the question, Robichaux said.

The board expressed an interest in assuring that checks and balances were in place to guide spending. Robichaux said he will review rough drafts of the budgets during the first week of April. Seven percent of each school’s budget passes to the charter management organization for operating costs and five percent is to be set aside as a buffer against unanticipated expenses. After Robichaux reviews the draft budgets, the network staff will work with school leaders over the next few months to ensure the budgets are ready for public review and submission to the state.

In other board business, ReNEW staff touched briefly on testing and current benchmark scores.  They provided a look at third- through eighth-grade students.  SciTech Academy, Batiste Cultural Arts Academy and Reed Elementary all have a goal of 65 percent of students testing at the “college ready” level, 25 percent are at the “approaching college ready” level, and 10 percent at the ”not college ready” level.

SciTech Academy benchmark tests revealed 38 percent of students as college ready and 31 percent approaching college readiness.  Reed Elementary students tested at 37 percent and 29 percent in the two categories.  Batiste Cultural Arts Academy measured 29 percent in both categories.

“We don’t like what we see in our benchmarks right now,” Robichaux said, summarizing the results.  He said the schools are taking many measures to bring the scores up, including placing some teachers on growth plans, doing short-cycle assessments with feedback for teachers, and working to motivate students.

On another administrative front, ReNEW has partnered with EIS to submit Medicaid claims for the schools.  EIS, a third-party claims service, helped the network win quick certification as a Medicaid provider.  EIS will take 10 percent of each reimbursement.

ReNEW expects to receive a Medicaid provider number in the next three weeks, at which point it can begin claiming reimbursements.  Any medical services students receive at school, which they are not concurrently receiving from another Medicaid provider, are eligible for reimbursement.  These services can be provided by the school nurse or by speech and hearing therapists.  EIS estimates $100 per student per year in reimbursements.  The school is estimating a return of $170,000.

The board was pleased with the news but cautioned the CMO to negotiate a clear contract with EIS.  Member Kathy Conklin said she wanted to ensure that EIS would also be held accountable in the event an ineligible claim went through initially, as it may later come back with penalties.

ReNEW official Kevin Gutierrez said the network is a finalist in the Striving Readers literacy grant, which could bring in $1.9 million. The Minimum Foundation Program, which sets state funding per pupil, has yet to be determined for next year, he added. He said the state’s new voucher program will likely lower MFP in the city but then raise it at the state level.  Some MFP money will also go to community colleges where high school students are enrolled.

Carol Asher announced that next month would be her last serving as president of the board.  Sharon Courtney will take over the position.

Members Asher, Courtney, Conklin, Brian Weimer, Donald Herry, Randy Roig and Greggory Harris were present.  Representing the CMO were Gutierrez, Robichaux, Tanya Bryant, Tammy Robichaux, Heather Lechner and Jean Pinney.

The meeting began at 5:46 p.m. and adjourned at 6:44 p.m.  The next board meeting will be April 12.

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