With a finances in good shape and a new playground in prospect, directors of the Morris Jeff Community School declared the year off to a promising start at their monthly meeting Sept. 20.
In her financial report, board treasurer Melissa Jagers said August expenses had run $27,352 over budget but were expected to even out in subsequent months. Finance and operations director Jared Frank elaborated, noting that monthly budgeting for classroom supplies is often “maxed out” at the start of the school year and that the bulk of per-student government dollars for special education don’t begin flowing to the school until February or later.
The board observed that some parents have yet to pay for their child’s participation in the Explorer Program and debated whether to send a warning letter before referring delinquent accounts to a collection agency. “The school’s fundraising efforts would be diminished if no effort were made to collect,” one member said. The board resolved to look into the issue.
Jagers also put forward the completed Louisiana Compliance Questionnaire that the state requires of charter schools. Two members moved to adopt the questionnaire, but others were confused about the answer a question on avoiding preferential admissions. “Is there a place to say, other than what RSD makes us do, we comply with the law?” one member asked. The questionnaire isn’t due until October, so the board tabled it for the moment.
Discussion turned to Hurricane Isaac, which did not have a lasting impact on the school or students overall. In the storm’s aftermath, administrators contacted the families of all students, and all but one student returned to the school. One family had to move due to home damage, but is otherwise doing fine. The school’s foundation took in some water, and has since been repaired. The playground is back in order, though a shed needs to be replaced. Makeup days for the storm will be Oct. 16 and Jan. 7.
The Finance Committee reviewed the books for July and August, noting that enrollment is full ahead of Oct. 1, the date when enrollment and demographic numbers are officially filed with the state. There are 60 new pre-kindergarten students. One area of uncertainty is determining which students are eligible for free lunch. The only sure criterion so far is that if a family applied for food stamps after Isaac, the child can receive free lunch for the remainder of the school year.
Morris Jeff had received news earlier in the day that the state’s Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program for economically disadvantaged pre-kindergartners has been cut by about $226 per student; a reason for the cut was not provided. That means a shortfall of about $9,040 in anticipated revenues for the 40 pre-k students who were eligible for the support.
The school has joined two charter schools in applying for special-education funding under a grant program called Believe and Include. The money would pay each school $50,000 for technology and programming to help with teaching and would be renewable. The funding is very competitive, with $4 million distributed to only 80 schools nationwide, board members were cautioned.
Principal Patricia Perkins updated the board on the school’s application to become an IB World School, a program used in more than 3,000 schools around the globe that leads to an international baccalaureate. She distributed an overview of the application and authorization process, noting that the school is in the “candidate phase.” In this phase, IB World School representatives will arrange for a site visit. Perkins said she will hold a prep session for board members on Nov. 30 to acquaint them more fully with the application process and ready them for questions that students and teachers may pose. The board responded positively to the prospect of advance coaching on their role.
Perkins said the school will be able to provide IB World School visitors with “rich evidence” that Morris Jeff qualifies for the program. The school offers daily music and art classes, as well as Spanish at pre-k and first-grade levels—a frequency of instruction that exceeds IB standards. The site visit would likely be in December or January, Perkins said.
Moving on to fundraising updates, the board was advised that the school’s annual gala is Oct. 11, with the Rebirth Brass Band and Michaela Harrison confirmed to perform.
In a facilities update, Perkins said she was “very excited” to learn that the Archdiocese of New Orleans may soon have property available to lease that would be ideal for expanding the school’s gym and playground.
After brief discussion, the board unanimously approved the previous month’s minutes.
The 6 p.m. meeting adjourned at 7:55 p.m. for an executive session of about a quarter of an hour to discuss pending litigation.
The next meeting will be Oct. 18, and will start at 6:30 p.m. rather than the usual 6 p.m. due to a board-development session earlier in the evening.
Other board members present were president Aesha Rasheed, Stacey Gengel, Jolene Jeff and Jennifer Weishaupt. Vice president Wanda Anderson-Guillaume, secretary Belinda Cambre and Jana Smith were absent. The audience consisted of a reporter from The Lens.