Lagniappe Academies is facing off-target enrollment numbers for next school year after school leaders decided to stop taking students in grades five and six next year due to lack of a facility.

Kendall Petri, CEO of the Treme charter school, told board members at the school’s May 15 regular board meeting that enrollment will grow from the school’s current tally of 120 students to 160 students next year.

The school, however, is still struggling to find a permanent facility to house the elementary and middle schools, and the school is unable to meet enrollment goals without a building.

That means that students who are in the sixth-grade now will not be replaced with new sixth graders, said Ninh Tran, the school’s chief operations officer.

Lagniappe’s middle school started in 2010-11 serving fifth-grade only. The following year, it expanded to serve fifth- and sixth-graders, and those students moved up to sixth- and seventh-grade in the current 2012-13 school year. No new grades will be added in the fall, though the school intends to keep serving its current students in grades seven and eight.

“Many schools that were chartered after we were received buildings,” Petri said. “Technically we are two schools. It’s Lagniappe Academies by design. We have students up to age 17 on campus right now. It’s hard to organize a middle school with high school aged students and having a kindergarten on the same campus.”

Board member Dan Henderson said the lack of a permanent building is costing the school more than $300,000 a year in rent and mortgage payments, money he said “needs to go into the classrooms.”

“That’s an issue,” he said. “We have been engaged in conversations with RSD, more so than before. The good news is the state is understanding and appreciates our plight. We’ve developed good relationships. But we haven’t got the answers we want yet and we should hear some good news in the next week or two.”

Ninh Tran, chief operations officer for Lagniappe Academies, told board members that a recent financial risk assessment of the school shows that Lagniappe spends more money per student than the state average. He said per-pupil spending at Lagniappe is at 150 percent of the state average.

Although the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has labeled Lagniappe Academies as financially sound, Henderson said the school’s private donations rely on a sole benefactor. The Smart Family Foundation contributes roughly $800,000 annually to the school.

“That’s not good news for a number of reasons,” Henderson said. “We’re assessed on diversity of contributions, and they see that as a risk factor. Our benefactor doesn’t have an infinite amount of money. We’re in no trouble for the next year, but we need to start zeroing in on how we’re going to deal with it and do some extrapolations on what ifs.”

Asked what other schools are doing to diversify their outside contributions, Henderson said they’re “out raising money.”

Board members present at the monthly meeting were Joseph Kimbrell, Dan Henderson, Lee Pryor and Emily Gordy. Absent were board members Raymond Smart, Frank Williams and Joanie Thomas.

The board took no formal action on any agenda items discussed at the regular board meeting.

Clarification: Lagniappe will continue to serve its current students, but will not have grades five or six in the 2013-14 school year. An earlier version of this post may have been misleading on that point.

Heather Miller

Heather Miller is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Lens' Charter School Reporting Corps. She is a former staff writer for The Independent in Lafayette, and is now based in New Orleans.