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Morris Jeff leaders fear the school is paying twice for property insurance

Leaders at Morris Jeff Community School worry the school is paying twice for property insurance.

Morris Jeff Director of Finances and Operations Jared Frank said during the school’s financial committee meeting Tuesday that he has been talking with officials at the Recovery School District about what the school is required to pay.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Frank said during the school’s financial committee meeting Tuesday. “We are trying to assess that we’re paying what we’re supposed to, and just once, not twice.”

Besides paying the school’s own liability insurance — which includes some coverage for property damage — Morris Jeff Community School leaders also pay insurance to the RSD, Frank said.

This hikes up the monthly fees for property insurance to $2,694 a month – a whopping 995 percent more in monthly fees that than the school had budgeted for in the 2012–13 school year, according to the committee’s monthly budget.

With $17,438 in charges so far, the school is now on track to spend more than five times the $3,250 school officials had allotted for the entire school year.

*DeLano Ford, the RSD’s deputy superintendent for services and operations, told The Lens that all RSD charter schools that were formerly traditional public schools are required to pay property insurance. The state Office of Risk Management charges the RSD for property insurance, so now its charter schools are responsible for picking up the bill to the tune of about $90 per student.

Frank said he has contested the charges because the building in which Morris Jeff resides at 2239 Poydras St. is owned privately, rather than by the state or the Orleans Parish School system. He said he’s looking into whether the owner is already paying for property insurance.

According to Frank, the debate with the RSD is ongoing.

Along with other minor budget discrepancies, committee members also discussed ways to improve the school’s cash flow by implementing two new policies for the 2013-14 school year.

Leaders at Morris Jeff plan on charging parents upfront for the Explorers Program, an afterschool program that parents have been delinquent on paying in years past.

Melissa Jagers and other board members last discussed the financial plan at January’s board meeting.

The program is $50 per week for a single child and $90 per week for a family with two or more children. The program has always been billed the month after the child attended the program, Jagers said.

“The Explorers Program is a whole different animal [from regular school],” Jagers said. “We should treat it like a business.”

She said the plan, which given thumbs up at the meeting by principal Patricia Perkins, would to require parents to pay prior to the program, rather than billing the month after the child attends.

“Some people use it as a daycare and don’t pay,” Jagers said.

Frank added that parents should pay upfront whether kids attended every single day or not.

The committee plans to have a written policy drafted for the next meeting so that the financial plan can be announced to families before summertime.

Additionally, committee members discussed implementing a policy around refunds for parents who pay for preschool but don’t keep their kids enrolled for the full school year.

Although the issue has never come up, Jagers suggested having a policy in place that says parents are responsible for the full tuition if their kids are enrolled for at least two-thirds of the school year.

Discussions about the 2013-14 budget centered on the problem of where the school will be located next school year – an ongoing issue that has been the focus of several board meetings in the past couple of months.

“Space plays a huge role in our budget,” Jagers said.

Perkins added that the school could expect some extra funding next year to the tune of about $700 per student, as a Type 5 charter school not in a public school space already.

The money could help the school pay for another location when the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops paying the monthly rent at the end of this school year, Perkins said.

Perkins said that her goal was to have a space locked down for next year by March 1st.

“In the meantime we need different scenarios,” she said. “I think we have our two best scenarios. We just don’t have a clear sense of the cost yet.”

Board members also discussed a new option for parents to pay for school lunches online, and announced that an extension was filed for the school’s annual tax return.

Melissa Jagers, Jared Frank, Brandy Smith and Patricia Perkins were all in attendance.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 21.

* Correction: An earlier version of this post contained an inaccurate figure for the per-student cost of property insurance for schools. RSD spokeswoman Zoey Reed said that amount is $90 per student, not $50 as we originally reported. Also, Jared Frank is Morris Jeff’s director of finance and operations, not a board member. That has been corrected. Finally, school leaders’ say their concern is that the school is paying twice for property insurance, not necessarily that the RSD has overbilled them. That has been reworded.

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