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Enrollment shortfall, busing costs pinch budget; student social services reviewed

An amended budget was approved by Sci High’s board, Advocates for Science and Mathematics Education Inc., following its presentation at their monthly meeting, Nov. 8.

Students in need of social services were another principal topic of discussion.

Claudia Kent, finance and business manager for New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School, to use the school’s formal name, presented a revised budget for internal use only.

The new numbers include a loss of $83,900 in  total per-pupil funding under the state’s Minimum Foundation Program, reflecting an enrollment that came in 32 students lower than projected.  Enrollment stood at 368 students for the state’s official Oct. 1 count.

Two big-ticket items not accounted for in the official budget are $115,000 in  transportation costs (with the addition of bus service this year), and an increase of $52,000 in the cost of insurance and remittances to the Recovery School District.

Kent said she has been collaborating with Sci High’s co-principals to come up with a more accurate budget. The team has been aggressive in finding unspent Title II funds which the school will now be able to collect for fiscal years 2011-13, she added.

Board chairwoman Mary Zervigon welcomed Kent’s candor. “We got into trouble when our reserves vanished because we previously had a financial officer who didn’t want to give us bad news. We need to have the bad news, we want to have it,” Zervigon said.

Positive adjustments to the budget have come in the form of a $72,000 grant for special education, and $20,000 in salary and benefits freed up by the departure of former school director Richard Best.

Co-principal Claire Jecklin briefed the board on the new way Sci High will handle students who enroll mid-way through a semester.

Students will now be allowed to attend classes, but will not begin earning credits until the following semester. If students arrive in the middle of the spring semester, summer school will also be required.

In the early going after Hurricane Katrina, students were allowed to immediately earn credits regardless of how late in the semester they showed up. The policy then changed and mid-semester arrivals were turned away completely.

Jecklin said there are “a lot of kids failing just because of attendance, but have good grades.” A science teacher in the audience said that about 10 of his 40 students fall into this category. The school recently obtained the new “Compass” program, which allows students to work for credit  outside of school.

Jecklin said problems on the home front are common among students with high rates of truancy.

“We’re seeing lots of families in crisis being turned away, and it’s a disturbing trend in the city. We’re working closer with homeless shelters to help families establish residency. We are connecting people with mental health and family services more and more,” Jecklin said.

Jecklin said 33 Sci High students are currently identified as homeless, 8.9 percent of the student body. She estimated that, in the course of a year, around 15 percent of Sci High students live as transients, with friends or in group homes.

Some mental and physical health aid is offered on Sci high’s campus. A refurbished building has been turned into a clinic. Three days a week it offers medical care to students, their families and alumni for up to  one year after graduation.

A full-time social worker, a psychiatrist, and two nurses are available to students. Similar school-based health centers are scattered around the city as part of a post-Katrina program of the the non-profit Louisiana Public Health Institute.

The board will not meet in December, and will begin meeting the third Thursday of every month starting in January. The November meeting ran from 4:40 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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