Although ReNEW Schools is still waiting for the final word on over $755,000 in anticipated federal funding, administrators are more optimistic about the network’s bottom line than they have been in previous months.

Financial Controller Tanya Bryant told ReNEW’s board of directors Thursday night that the charter school network ended up with more students than projected this year, resulting in an increase in per-pupil funding.

“We actually were 25 students over budget, which is great,” said Bryant.

Those students gave ReNEW’s budget a $180,000 cushion. But the administration has yet to receive the ok on its E-rate proposal, which represents a much larger portion of the network’s $26.6 million budget. The E-rate program, overseen by the Federal Communication Commission, helps provide telecommunication services to low-income students by reimbursing a significant portion of the costs.

ReNEW’s budgeted $755,000 in E-rate reimbursements was not discussed during the meeting, but President Kevin Guitterrez told The Lens he’s seen some progress in the proposal.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” Guitterrez said.

Bryant said the network received its per-pupil funding adjustment this month.

“Reimbursements from the state are coming in a lot quicker,” she said. In February, finance committee members felt reimbursements were taking longer than normal.

CEO Gary Robichaux told board members he is once again allowing school leaders to plan their own budgets, within certain guidelines.

“We gave them all a minimum number of kids to meet overhead,” Robichaux said. He then gives administrators the freedom to staff their schools, as long as the plans are approved by human resources, special education staff, and himself.

The schools automatically pay 7 percent to the central office for charter management. That is the money with which the charter management organization staff operates, he said. Additionally, he requires each school to save 5 percent of its revenue. Robichaux reiterated that the network’s goal is to enroll 4,000 students. Next year he hopes to enroll about 3,300.

Chief of Instruction Tammy Robicheaux told board members the network won $60,000 of the $3 million grant awarded to New Schools for New Orleans. The network applied to New Schools for New Orleans for the competitive portion of the grant and will serve as a “lead partner,” helping to develop lessons and leading workshops with other schools. ReNEW will receive that money over a two-year period.

The grant is designed to help charters get ready for Common Core transition, new standards which are gradually being implemented. Robicheaux said the partnership with New Schools for New Orleans and other schools would be a good resource in the coming months with curriculum changes on the horizon.

The board’s newly created development and marketing committee is planning an event they hope will bring large donations to the network. On May 8, they will host a ticket-only event with a select 100 to 150 invitees at the Ritz Carlton penthouse apartment, said the school’s Development Director Pete Rodway.

The event marks the one year anniversary of Batiste Cultural Arts Academy selection as just one of eight schools nationwide in Michelle Obama’s “Turnaround Arts” initiative.  As part of the initiative, the school was assigned actress Alfre Woodard as its “turnaround artist.”  Woodard will also attend the event.

ReNEW also oversees Reed Elementary, SciTech Academy, and ReNEW Accelerated High School, and is taking over Schaumburg Elementary come July.

ReNEW will hold its public hearing for the 2013-2014 budget May 9, prior to its scheduled monthly meeting.

Members Brian Weimer, Liza Sherman, Sandra Cahill, Carol Asher, Kathy Conklin, Greggory Harris, Siona LaFrance, and Martin Feibelman were present at the hour-long meeting.

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...