KIPP New Orleans prepares to expand beyond nine charter schools

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Leadership and the board of directors at KIPP New Orleans Schools have taken the initial step for expansion in the coming years by voting to participate in the 2013 charter application process.

By applying for a blanket set of charters by the May 1 deadline, the organization has the option to open more schools in the future, without the obligation to do so.

KIPP Chief of Staff Jennifer Walcott told the board at Thursday’s meeting that the topic of expansion was brought up by the state as they noted the need for more high quality operators statewide.

Assessing precisely where KIPP stands now is what Walcott described as being the task at hand before any further decisions are made.

Having up-to-date, clear information about academic achievement, financial sustainability, facilities, and the teacher leadership pipeline is the preliminary step, taking place now through May.

“We also need to find a clear process for making this decision, and a decision point after each phase before we move forward,” Walcott said.

Once the initial “deep-diving” is completed, exploring potential areas for growth would be phase two, happening from May through September of this year. One-third of Louisiana’s failing schools are located in the New Orleans to Baton Rouge corridor, according to Walcott’s presentation.

The last stage of this initial plan is identifying leadership for a new school, taking place from September 2013 through February 2014.

KIPP New Orleans currently operates nine schools, and board President John Landrum commented that, “we don’t want growth to come at the cost of quality. We’re committed to quality first.”

During the finance committee report, member Alan Philipson introduced Stuart Gay, of Afton Partners, as a new consultant brought in to help the finance department.

“Stuart is a check and balance that we really need,” Philipson said. “He will perform a service that is vital to our going forward.”

Setting a vision for the finance team, and finding the right staff model is one element of Gay’s assistance identified by KIPP Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Aluise.

Gay went into more detail listing “risk management, policies and procedures, contracts, and staff training” as what he would be contributing.

Finance committee member Stephen Rosenthal requested month-to-month budget reports at every board meeting, and expressed frustration over the lack of strategic financial planning.

“With a $40 million budget we can’t fool around,” Rosenthal said. “You’re just describing reports and cleaning up data, we need a five-year plan. Who’s going to be CFO?”

KIPP CFO Mike Dunn resigned in March, and according to Walcott, they have since brought in a new director of finance and accounting.

Throughout the conversation, Philipson urged board members not to get caught up with job titles, but focus on job duties.

Rosenthal demanded monthly reports begin being issued by the close of the current fiscal year, July 1, however Philipson named September as a more realistic timeframe.

Philipson insisted that having KIPP’s finance department streamlined and fully staffed before bringing in a CFO would be best, while Rosenthal pleaded the opposite.

“It’s not acceptable to be running this organization without a CFO,” Rosenthal said. “I think we should start looking for one now.”

While Philipson continued to lobby for cleaning house first, board president Landrum stopped the debate and said the topic would be added to the agenda of the strategy committee.

The meeting ran from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The next board meeting of KIPP New Orleans Schools is June 13.

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