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[Corrected:] New Orleans College Prep Academies face budget woes alongside improving test scores

Correction: the original story stated that the NOCP board violated Local Budget Act requirements. Those claims were incorrect and have been changed. 

The June meeting of the board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies held mixed messages for its members.  Though the school’s LEAP scores came in significantly better than expected, the board learned that the school is still far from being out of the woods concerning its budget problems.

Executive Director Ben Kleban demonstrated the school’s improved academic performance with his trademark PowerPoint presentations.

The averages of all subjects for the three schools were 83 in elementary, 72 at the middle school, and 95 for the high school.  Solid improvements were recorded in nearly all subjects throughout grade levels previously tested.  Estimating the state’s formula, Mr. Kleban said the school’s total score should be very close to an 81, safely above the new failing cut-off score of 75.

In the same month in which the better-than-expected LEAP scores were announced, the school revealed that it will not be passing its final budget by the end of the June 30 fiscal year, as required by state law.  The “interim budget” the board passed unanimously was not released to the public or made available within 15 days of the deadline for community input.

Director Kleban said that he believed that the deadline for final budgets was July 30, and was not aware that an advance release in the paper of record was required.  He said he would “review the legislation and revisit the issue.”

Informed of the error, Acting Chair Kenneth Polite said they would follow proper procedure at “whatever meeting we ultimately have to review and approve the budget.”

The current interim budget leaves a $1.2 million dollar deficit expected at the end of the next fiscal year.  Despite cuts discussed at last month’s meeting, upcoming drops in federal per student aid, and the expected loss of some outside grant funding make for a challenging financial picture for the school.

“There isn’t a lot of fat in this,” said member Peter Harding.  “We think that this is a revenue issue.”

“I’ve cut costs by 900 bucks [per pupil].  That’s about all I can swing right now.” said Mr. Kleban.

One plan to address the problem is admitting more students.  While this would make further staff cuts difficult, it would increase per student funding and stretch staffing salaries farther.  Kleban noted that this approach might be difficult for a school with an expected D+ rating, as many schools with better ratings currently have space available.

A second approach is connected to the possible admission of a new board member.  Julie Walker was introduced to the board by Acting School Board Chair Kenneth Polite as someone with extensive fundraising experience.  Mrs. Walker is the author of four books relating to fundraising and non-profit organizations.  Members will vote on her admission to the board at next month’s meeting, scheduled for July 28.

Present were acting Chair Kenneth Polite, Ruth Kullman, Peter Harding, and Monica Edwards.  Also in attendance was Ben Kleban, Founder and Executive Director of NOCP, middle school Principal Noell Lugay, Director of Special Projects Erin Weldon, and potential board candidate Julie Walker.

The budget document can be viewed here: New Orleans College Prep 2012-2013 Budget. The 2011-2012 budget comparisons are located on the right side of this document. It is presented as provided by the district.

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