At its monthly meeting, April 24, FirstLine Schools’ board of directors discussed the charter network’s preliminary budget for the 2013-14 school year before hearing a presentation about Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, the group’s only high school.*

According to finance committee leader Stephen Rosenthal, FirstLine began the current school year with an adjusted income balance of $1.87 million across all five of its schools. Rosenthal projected that the budget year will end with a balance of $506,000 —  $100,000 more than expected. That total includes  $280,000 in unused contingency funds and $225,000 in direct funding.

The committee’s goal is a 10 percent surplus of FirstLine’s annual expenditures. “We felt that 10 percent was the minimum level we could have long-term, for financial security,” Rosenthal said.

Although the budget is currently in surplus, federal grants are expiring at some schools, and not every grant application will be successful. “We have a lot of grants out that we’ll hear about in five to six weeks,” FirstLine’s chief executive officer, Jay Altman, said.

During the facilities committee update, chief financial officer Joseph Neary and the committee’s chairman, Brian Egana, discussed finances associated with FirstLine buildings.

“We anticipate having the Monroe Street building demolished by August,” said Egana, referring to the former location of New Orleans Charter Middle School at 3801 Monroe St., a school that was shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Once it’s down and the lot is cleared, we should have potential land-buyers.”

Neary said large new school buildings, such as Arthur Ashe Charter School, are nearly twice as expensive to maintain as older, smaller schools.* One board member said FirstLine will have to watch its expenses as it moves John Dibert Community School to a new building on the site of the former Phillis Wheatley Elementary at 2300 Dumaine St.

As if to underscore Neary’s point, a power outage during a thunderstorm earlier in the day meant the air conditioning was not working properly during the board meeting, which was held at Ashe. “With new buildings comes great responsibility,” he said. “We had to develop a more comprehensive approach to preventive maintenance at the new facilities. We don’t want them to deteriorate while we’re responsible for them.”

On another front, Neary reported that the board will install a $30,000 public address system at Samuel Green Charter School. The K-8 school currently has no announcement system.*

The presentation about Clark Prep was by 11th- and 12th-grade principal Reginald Coleman and ninth- and 10th-grade principal Alex Hochron. Challenges faced by the school include students who are homeless, involved with the criminal justice system, older than their classmates and, in some cases, five or more years behind them academically.

Hochron said Clark’s goal is to prepare every student for college, but because many students are years behind, they need to advance more than one grade level per school year. In math, the goal is 1.5 years of growth per student, on average. In reading, the situation is more grim: the average Clark student needs to progress two or more grade levels per school year.

Charts presented by Coleman and Hochron showed that blended learning, a combination of online and classroom learning that allows students to work at their own pace, and STAR assessments, are producing results.* Ninth-graders improved their arithmetic skills by 1.35 years and seniors by nine-tenths of a year during the first half of the 2012-13 school year.

In reading, however, the system seems ineffective. Ninth-graders improved their reading abilities by .04 years, while seniors regressed .28 years.

School leaders and board members attributed the poor showing to the nature of the subjects. “Math is more immediately rewarding,” Altman said. “When you solve a problem, it feels good. Math is also more linear. Reading is more cyclical and iterative.”

Board members present in addition to Altman, Rosenthal, Egana and Neary were George Freeman, Kim Henry, Catherine Pierson, Alison Hartman, Larry Kullman, Gregory St. Etienne and Monique Cola. Christian Rhodes, Paul Pechon and Charleen Blache were absent. Four staff members and two members of the general public were also in attendance.

*This story originally had the following errors, all of which have been corrected:

  • Incorrect names for Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School and Arthur Ashe Charter School.
  • Incorrect description of “blended learning” as a software program; it is a teaching approach that combines online and classroom instruction.
  • Incorrect characterization of the installation of a public address system at Samuel Green Charter School; the Recovery School District is not involved with the project.
  • Incorrect suggestion that the move of John Dibert Community School will add to expenses. (May 3, 2013)