ReNEW charter school leaders are concerned federal and state funding streams are taking longer to reach classrooms than in the past.

“We noticed in the finance committee meeting that money that’s federally related has already slowed down,” ReNEW board president Sharon Courtney told other board members during their Feb. 21 meeting.

Financial Controller Tanya Bryant said the turnaround time on state reimbursements takes longer than it used to.

“In March 2012 when we were requesting reimbursement we would receive it within seven days,” said Bryant, who said reimbursements can take up to 30 days now.

The network is also awaiting its E-rate reimbursements. The federal E-rate rebate program supplements telecommunications services. ReNEW President Kevin Guitterrez said E-rate is reviewing the school’s use of the program for its cost-effectiveness.

ReNEW budgeted $755,922 in E-rate reimbursements this year. The December financial report reviewed at the meeting showed only $1,800 had been received.

“There’s no timetable on when that cost-effective review finishes,” Guitterrez said.

Guitterrez later explained to The Lens that ReNEW seeks reimbursement for services such as mobile broadband for laptops that students are allowed to take home. He said such reimbursements could be viewed as ReNEW trying pushing the envelope compared with what most districts claim. Guitterrez said he suspects that may be what triggered the cost-effective review.

Bryant said the school drew $150,000 from it’s line of credit. Courtney said there are periods each school year when the network’s revenue is short of its expenses and said many schools experience a similar shortfall.

Guitterrez said the network would not be receiving the last round of funding from the Public Charter School Program grant money, about $120,000. He said the program’s resources were depleted more quickly than anticipated.

Bryant said the state allocated $700,000 for ReNEW’s 160 pre-kindergarten spots this year. ReNEW offers the spots through LA 4, Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten program.  However, halfway into the year Bryant said ReNEW has only received about $200,000 in state reimbursements.

Bryant said last year the majority of the funding came from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal grant program designed to help needy families, and less than 10 percent was from the state.

She said a majority of funding will come through Community Development Block Grants this year.

“We’ve exhausted the state and TANF,” said Bryant

“Will there be a shortage?” asked member Donald Herry.

Bryant said the latest emails from the state indicated the $700,000 allocation would not change.

Bryant also said the network saw a 10 percent increase in students who qualified for special education services.  This will bring in an additional $250,000 to the schools to pay for interventionists and other program needs.

“All this funding stuff has got me worried,” said Herry.

On a lighter note, 25 ReNEW students traveled to the White House and met with First Lady Michelle Obama earlier in February. CEO Gary Robichaux said students enjoyed the trip, and said they questioned why there was so much talking while Congress was in session.

While ReNEW is seeing shortfalls on a number of revenue streams, Robichaux said he is hopeful the network will receive a grant to help establish a blended learning program which uses computer-based programs to tailor instruction to a students’ level, along with teacher instruction.

ReNEW is seeking the funding through Leslie Jacobs, a local philanthropist who represents a consortium of funders, including one that contributes funding to The Lens. Robichaux applied for $175,000 to establish two computer labs with 65 computers each.

Members Jim Dukes, Randy Roig, Sandra Cahill, Carol Asher, Kathy Conklin, Sharon Courtney, Greggory Harris, Brian Weimer and Donald Herry were present.  The meeting began at 5:38 p.m. and adjourned at 6:30 p.m. Member Marten Feibelman arrived just after the meeting adjourned and signed the attendance sheet.

The board will meet again March 14 at 5:30 p.m.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...