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Lusher adds five people to its governing board, expanding to 13

The mayor’s top attorney, a Loyola professor and a top financial officer from Tulane are among the five newest members of the Lusher Charter School governing board, added Saturday morning as the school prepares to confront a budget deficit and ongoing facilities challenges.

The new additions were nominated by current members, then interviewed by the board’s executive committee, said Lusher board president Blaine LeCesne. All five were added by unanimous vote Saturday morning. They are:

  • Richard Cortizas, New Orleans city attorney and former executive counsel to Mayor Mitch Landrieu,
  • Chunlin Leonhard, an associate professor in the Loyola University College of Law,
  • Alysia Loshbaugh, director of budget and financial affairs in the Tulane University Provost’s office,
  • Reuben Teague, founder of Green Coast Enterprises and a founding board member of RIDE New Orleans, and
  • Jason Williams, a private attorney who previously ran for District Attorney and was considered a leading contender for the interim District B seat on the New Orleans City Council.

With eight current members remaining on the board, the additions bring the total to 13.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, with all these financial challenges that charter schools are experiencing,” LeCesne said.

Saturday’s meeting included preliminary consideration of the school’s $16 million budget for 2014. Lusher will dip into its substantial reserves to cover a $641,000 deficit, which LeCesne attributed to both rising costs and sinking revenues.

The school’s contribution to teacher retirement alone has risen from roughly $1.5 million in fiscal years 2006-2010 — when the state only required a 16 percent match from the school — to an expected $2.6 million next year, representing the state’s new demand for a 27 percent match, according to figures shared with the board.

Meanwhile, the school does not receive federal Title I funding, LeCesne said, because the federal government only awards it to schools that have a 40 percent population of students eligible for free and reduced lunches. Lusher’s population represents a much lower number, but because Lusher is one of the largest schools in the city, they actually serve many more free-and-reduced lunch students than small schools that receive that funding, LeCesne said.

The board gave the budget proposal its preliminary approval Saturday, and LeCesne said the public hearing on the full budget will be held next month.

Meanwhile, Lusher has decided to keep its 100 expansion students at the Jewish Community Center for another year, said school CEO Kathy Riedlinger. She recently met with the JCC parents to explain the decision, she said, and the teachers will be moving up a grade with their students.

“The quality of instruction at our JCC program is extremely high, and the JCC’s been great, just wonderful about offering the facility,” Riedlinger told the board. “As much as the JCC community sometimes looks to Willow and are envious about the things Willow gets — like the big morning meeting, the more in-depth arts programs — there’s something about what those JCC kids are getting that is really amazing and magical and just as beneficial. Not the same, but just as beneficial.”

The long-term plan for resuming the expansion project started at the JCC remains a work in progress. The state gives Lusher an additional $63,000 for them because they are not in a school-district building, but school officials say that does not cover the increased costs of housing them there, and this year will study the possible financial effects of other options.

Meanwhile, officials expect the long-awaited stabilization projects at Lusher’s two main campuses (paid for through the school system’s settlement with FEMA) to begin in the fall. One current issue is that district officials have said the Willow campus will require an elevator, and Lusher officials are looking for the best place to locate it.

This story was first published by Uptown Messenger and appears here under a special arrangement. Unlike other Lens stories, it cannot be republished.

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