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Board works to address anticipated budget crunch

While anticipating next month’s release of testing scores that will show whether schools are meeting academic performance targets, the board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies was presented with a new challenge at its monthly meeting, May 8: the network faces a budget deficit which, at current rates, will leave it in the red in the 2013-14 school year.

Executive Director Ben Kleban presented the board with two budget breakdowns. In the first, at current expense and revenue levels, the school is expected to exhaust its nearly $1.9 million surplus in about 15 months.

Under the second scenario, the school would increase enrollment, to generate more revenues, and eliminate some staff positions to save money. The budget for athletic coaches would be cut in half, and the assistant dean in charge of in-school suspensions would be laid off.  These and other school duties would be spread among remaining faculty members.

Kleban called the second scenario the one that will “achieve stability in the shortest amount of time possible.” He added that “it doesn’t necessarily have to happen all at once.”

Board member Peter Harding recommended that the board balance the two approaches.  He reminded the board that they had come to this point before, but had found grants to cover the school’s losses and avoid painful cuts. If the board makes cuts for positions that later get funded, it could hurt the educational effort.

The board decided to adopt this middle approach, adding an average of six students to each grade. Kleban said he could stretch some faculty to cover multiple duties, but he did not want to make more cuts than those discussed. “I already pushed back their staffing requests,” he said. “We are already at the limits of what they think they need.”

In the meantime, the school will seek grants and other funding opportunities to cover remaining losses.  Kleban said that in his view, the $7,857 currently allotted schools on a per-student basis under the state’s Minimum Foundation Program is insufficient. He estimated the actual cost per student at somewhere around $10,000 a year. All New Orleans schools are feeling the pinch, Kleban said.

In other business, board President Hal Brown said he was stepping down this month. New bylaws passed by the board allow emeritus board leaders and school directors to attend the meetings as ex-officio members without voting privileges.

The new bylaws also eliminate special rules regarding public access to open meetings and the reference to the prohibition on holding votes in closed executive sessions. The section is now simplified to read: “The Board shall conduct all meetings in accordance with the Louisiana Open Meetings Law.”

Present along with Harding and Brown were acting board leader Kenneth Polite, Murray Pitts, Ruth Kullman, Peter Harding, Jim Raby, and Monica Edwards. Member Rick Conway was absent.

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