Benjamin Franklin High School is operating with an expected budget surplus this year, but school leaders say they worry about reserves dwindling in the future.
Mark Mayer, member of the school’s Advocates for Academic Excellence in Education board, led a discussion of the school’s financial health during the board’s meeting Thursday.
Mayer said that the school has “perilously small net asset funds” due to running a budget deficit for the past three years.
Even though the school is expecting a surplus of $250,000 in unrestricted funds this year, the schools reserves are below what Franklin finance director Allison Bent Bowler said Orleans Parish School Board officials recommend for a school this size.
Bowler said schools should have about a year’s worth of operating funds in reserve, according to Orleans Parish school officials. For Franklin, that would translate to about $7 million, but the school now only has $1.9 million in reserve.
Concerned about the financial burden of a higher student population, Mayer asked data manager David Ferris to give an analysis of enrollment projections.
Ferris said the school “can handle” expected increases in the current enrollment of about 870 students during the 2013-14 school year. But with two years of growth similar to recent years the school will need to “make tough decisions” about curtailing enrollment or expanding the school.
Right now, all students who meet the school’s rigorous academic entrance criteria are accepted, but leaders said they worry that enrollment trends might mean there soon won’t be enough room to admit all who qualify.
Ferris said the school should determine a firm maximum student population before leaders move forward with any decisions regarding the creation of a waiting list or lottery system. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, enrollment was stretched to about 900.
“If we are two years away from hard decisions, we’re there” said Mayer, who seemed supported by the board in his insistence that these decisions needed to be addressed immediately.
Ferris is expected in April to give the board more specific enrollment projections for the next three to five years.
Fresh from attending a national conference for independent schools in Orlando, teachers John Parauka and Natalie Rinehart presented information about how to market Ben Franklin to increase fundraising and exposure. Rinehart said social media can be helpful. Bowler advocated for the hiring of a part-time marketing specialist.
Some members of the board were critical of the need for an emphasis on explicitly marketing the school, arguing that it already has high enrollment and does not need to attract more students or families. Board member Patricia Adams directly questioned the presenters, asking exactly what end the school was pursuing.
Parauka said that the school had struggled with its role in the community since Hurricane Katrina. He said that the Ben Franklin’s “resources and people have a greater potential to help this community go somewhere in education” than they have yet realized. Marketing could be an avenue for personal contact that would increase community involvement.
A student — who was recognized earlier in the meeting for her performance in Suessical The Musical — challenged the board’s ability to correctly market the school or its students.
“Where are the students?” she asked. “How many of you know what’s going on at Franklin?”
She said that students are not well represented by current or proposed marketing efforts.
Chairman Duris Holmes responded that board meetings were open to the all students, and students would be consulted if a strategic planning committee is formed regarding marketing.
The board voted unanimously to adopt the Board of Directors handbook. They also unanimously approved a previously discussed vendor list for the conflict of interest disclosure form.
The next meeting will take place April 18. Tim Rusnak, CEO and principal, stated the agenda will include a discussion of enrollment projections, recent student achievements and expected teacher resignations.
Board President Duris Holmes and board members Carl Indest, Susan Weeks, Mark Mayer, Collette Creppell, Ingrid T. Labat, Patricia Adams, Les Alexander and Joseph A. Horton attended the meeting, which lasted two hours. Board members Joseph Cao, Gary Ostroske and John Williams and Kim Bondy were absent.