Nearly 200 concerned parents and teachers attended Wednesday night’s Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans’ parent-teacher-organization meeting, where school board president Jean Montes said Lycee was operating with a $90,000 budget deficit and that more staffing cuts were possible.
Three administrative positions were eliminated at the charter school within the past week – an office manager, an assistant to the director and the school’s after-school coordinator.
Parents said they received a vague email from the school stating that the board was implementing a “structural change to the administration” this week, but the email offered no details.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Montes didn’t explain the source the budget shortfall. He said only that there were issues with the previous administration’s budget numbers.
“If we continued with the template the (current board) was given, presented by the prior administration, so to speak, we would not be solvent at the end of the year,” Montes said. “What we decided to do was start (cutting costs) now.”
It was a sharp change from five months ago, when the board of the charter school unanimously passed their $3.1 million 2012-13 budget with no discussion. At the time, the school had nearly $90,000 in reserve funds.
Lycee teachers gathered as a group at the microphone before Montes spoke in order to express their concern about the sudden cuts.
“Teachers are very worried about the consequences of the last decision taken. These decisions have an impact on (teaching conditions) in the class,” said a spokesperson on behalf of Lycée teachers.
Montes was unable to offer much relief. After a parent asked if any teaching positions were on the chopping block, Montes responded, “It is possible, yes.”
Montes said the financial problems had only come to the board’s attention over the past few weeks after board members “started to ask questions and not receive answers,” he said.
“The anger you have, I have the same anger. Like you, I want answers,” Montes told parents. “We have to revise (the budget) and are in the process of presenting it to the board. We have professionals who are scrutinizing every dollar that has been spent.”
Montes’ lack of specifics about the budget shortfall resulted in parents coming up with their own conclusions.
One parent said that after speaking with the school’s former business manager, David Bedell, he believes board members have been writing contracts with outside companies and individuals with money that wasn’t allotted in the budget.
“(Bedell) told me that the board was writing contracts separately outside of the budget itself; (contracts) that he was not aware of and not part of the budget and not reconciled,” the parent said.
Montes said he personally did not enter into any outside agreements in his position as board president.
Bedell then took to the microphone and said there were some questionable expenditures.
“I know we had no money in the budget for all the repairs needed to keep the (new school) building up to state (code); I don’t know how that was paid for,” Bedell said.
Montes said that board members will discuss the budget figures with finance professionals at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting and then come up with a plan to keep the school in the black for the rest of the year, and in the black moving forward.
The budget news comes amid other issues with Lycée. The school will go before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) on Thursday, Nov. 14, to review its admission practices, which BESE members say did not include enough minority students.
Monday’s Lycee Board meeting meeting will be held at the Patton St. campus at 6:30 p.m.