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FirstLine eyes more conservative budget than in years past, recognizes successes at Dibert

The FirstLine Schools’ Board of Directors took an in-depth look at the 2012-2013 budget at its monthly meeting on June 18. FirstLine controls Samuel J. Green Charter School, John Dibert Community School, Joseph C. Clark Preparatory High School, Arthur Ashe Charter School, and, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, it will operate Langston Hughes Academy.

Finance Committee Chair Stephen Rosenthal detailed FirstLine’s comprehensive approach. Reviewing data from several years past, Rosenthal noted a trend.

“We have historically underestimated our operating costs; luckily, we have also underestimated our revenues and fundraising,” he said.

Though this remark drew smiles, his point was not missed: FirstLine cannot bank on last-minute grants and other windfalls to bail out overbudgeted schools. The roughly $26 million budget for 2012-2013 will allocate funds across FirstLine’s five New Orleans schools.

Looking at per-pupil spending, Chief Executive Officer Jay Altman remarked, “The current $10,500 sum is at least $5,000 less from what cities customarily spend in the Northeast, and we have to cover transportation as well.”

Altman went on to assure the board that the relatively poor state funding was not an excuse to allow a poor education for students in schools under FirstLine’s control.

“FirstLine is trying to build great schools, period,” Altman said.

Despite FirstLine’s ability to seek and receive federal performance grants, such subsidies will not be assumed in next year’s budget. Rather, innovative teaching models and community involvement are thought to be the most promising avenues toward success.

A team from John Dibert Community School delivered a presentation detailing how such an approach has worked for them.

School Director Sivi Domango and Middle School Principal Diana Archuleta spelled out John Dibert Community School’s core values and mission.  After taking over the school two years ago, the staff has worked to bolster ties within the community by encouraging parents to take a proactive approach when addressing budget constraints.

The Parent Organization holds winter coat and uniform drives to ensure students are well-clothed throughout the year.  While acquiring new textbooks remains a priority, students continue to perform well without them for the time being.

Dibert turned in scores that rank among the highest in the Recovery School District. For example, in eighth grade Language Arts scores Dibert tops the list.

Board members expressed that they are quite pleased with Dibert’s progress and that they hope to see similar practices put in place in all FirstLine Schools, especially Arthur Ashe School, which will open at the Bienville Elementary School site in Gentilly in the 2012-2013 school year with Domango as director.

All but one board member were present with one reporter from The Lens in the audience.

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