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Fear big jump in health insurance costs; savings seen by freezing info-tech outlay

As the board of directors gathered for their monthly meeting, Sept. 17, a review of financial challenges facing Intercultural Charter School was leavened by a look ahead to upcoming events, including an open house, the school’s lantern contest, and the Latino Festival.

With 380 students and 40 pre-kindergartners currently in attendance, enrollment is lower than expected, but the Recovery School District has yet to allocate additional students to grades with extra seats, board members learned.

In her report to the board, principal Pamela Randall said having a school nurse available only half-time has slowed hearing and vision screenings, which are among assessments required as part of the ongoing charter-renewal process.

Facilities manager James Herman updated the board on numerous school repairs meant to be complete by a Sept. 28 deadline. Flooring has been replaced or repaired and maintenance equipment has been moved to a new shed. An air-conditioning unit is still out and other repairs remain to be tackled, but Herman said he is confident of meeting the deadline.

Randall said the cafeteria, now under new management, is cleaner and better organized than it was under  Aramark.

In his report, financial manager Tom Slager said the school is billing for reimbursement on a monthly basis, rather than waiting until the end of the term. Over the past six months, the school has billed for approximately $600,000 in funding. The lower enrollment is expected to cut school revenues by an estimated $20,000. Payroll comprises about 75 percent of school expenses, Slager said.

Savings of about $50,000 have realized by cuts in the information technology budget.  Slager advised against hiring an IT person at this time, and, as the school may be moving in a year or two, recommended against investing in equipment specific to the current site.

Meanwhile, health insurance premiums will increase by as much as 34 percent, Slager warned. As an alternative, he said he has researched some less costly high-deductible plans. That’s an option that makes sense only for people who don’t go to the doctor much, he said, adding that it’s not a “one size fits all” solution. A questionnaire on health care needs is circulating among staff to help determine future coverage preferences.

Board President Cam Thanh Tran said the school might realize some savings on health coverage by joining a larger insurance pool. Slager concurred, and the issue will be explored further.

Grants manager Judy Barry reported that an application for Medicaid coverage is being completed and that she has also applied to Entergy for a grant that could provide interactive boards for some classrooms.

Tran noted that the directors must elect officers by the end of the current school year. She said she does not want to continue as president. The board also should recruit more than its current 10 members, she said, so that no one would have to serve on more than one committee. Ways to recruit, she said, include looking at the “board bank” of people interested in becoming members or holding a recruitment party.

Board members agreed that they should appeal to the Recovery School District for a new or upgraded building, one that would be less expensive to maintain and insure, Further savings could be realized by hiring a part-time nurse directly, rather than through the Recovery School District, which is charging the school $55,000 for the service.

The board adjourned the meeting at 7:35 p.m. and went into an executive session, closed to the public, to discuss an unspecified personnel matter. The next meeting will be October 15.

Board members present in addition to Chairwoman Tran were Dr. Alvaro Alcazar, vice-chair; Francis J. Cascio, treasurer; Dr. Kathleen Carlin, secretary; Larry Baudouin and Vong Nguyen. Those absent were Ed Blouin, Tap Bui,  Donovan DiLorenzo and Jerome Jordan. The meeting was attended by two members of the general public, one of them a reporter for The Lens.

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