McDonogh City Park Academy school officials have drafted a $4.2 million budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year and project a small surplus based on next year’s enrollment reaching 425 students.

That’s only six students less than the school’s current enrollment, according to City Park Academy Director of Finance and Operations Keeanya Dupre. That figure prompted concern from board members that the budget could fall short if enrollment targets aren’t met.

Mary Kay Parker, chairwoman of the New Orleans Charter Schools Foundation board that governs the Mid City charter school, said during a May 21 budget hearing that she’d like to see the budget based on a student count of 410-415.

“That’s aggressive,” Parker said. “It scares me. We’ll have to rely on our kindergarten enrollment, which is something we don’t want to do.”

City Park Academy’s kindergarten enrollment is lower than anticipated so far for next school year following the first round of the OneApp district-wide enrollment process. The first round of OneApp enrolled only eight kindergartners, far fewer than the school’s goal of 55.

Board members and school leaders attribute the off-target enrollment to an error on the part of the Recovery School District that listed City Park Academy’s kindergarten as full in the OneApp database.

RSD officials dispute City Park Academy’s claims and said demand for the charter school was low during the first round of OneApp.

The deadline for submitting second round OneApp forms was May 24. Carmelite Price, City Park Academy’s school services coordinator, said the school has not received an updated kindergarten roster yet from RSD.

Dupre told board members at a recent budget hearing that lowering the student count for next year’s budget means a teaching position must be eliminated for the budget to be balanced as required by state law.

Asked whether the school could eliminate a paraprofessional position instead, Dupre said the salary of a paraprofessional would not cover the shortfall created by cutting enrollment projections by seven students.

Two paraprofessional positions already have been eliminated for next school year, Dupre said. If the school cuts any more paraprofessional positions, it would not have enough on staff to meet the minimum requirements for special education classes.

City Park Academy receives roughly $8,000 in state per-pupil funding for every student enrolled at the school, Dupre said.

The school projects $4.26 million in revenue for the 2013-2014 budget, down $165,690, or 3.7 percent, over last year. The budget calls for $4.22 million in spending, a decrease of 3.8 percent over last year, with a surplus that’s whittled down to $8,614 after factoring in depreciation.

Employee salaries account for $2.26 million, or 53.6 percent of total spending for next year.

That’s an increase of $123,079, or 5.7 percent, as compared to the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The increase stems from employee pay raises and the addition of a math interventionist position, Dupre said.

Spending for employee benefits and contributions to the state’s teacher retirement system also have increased under the new budget. According to the proposed budget, the school will spend $895,977 on health benefits and retirement contributions, up $149,332, or 20 percent, over last year.

“What happens when teacher retirement keeps going up like it has been?” Parker said. “We can handle it this year because we have a surplus in our cash. But what happens if we don’t have a surplus and we don’t have the student count to pay for it? At some point something has to give.”

Board members said the school must continue to participate in the state’s teacher retirement program until the school’s charter ends at the end of next school year. Meanwhile, the board will look for alternatives to the state pension program, which has been steadily increasing in cost over the past few years.

The majority of charter schools in the city have already opted out of the state teacher retirement system.

“I think other options are more consistent with us knowing what our contributions are going to be,” said board member Monica Candal. “Right now we don’t know what our contributions are going to be from year to year.”

Parker said the reason for the steady rise in pension costs is due to so many other schools dropping out of the program.

Revenues for next year include a conservative estimate of $35,000 in outside donations, down $33,491, or 49 percent, over last year. Dupre said the school has almost always brought in more in outside contributions by the middle of the fiscal year.

Board members lamented not having enough money in the budget to fund a full-time position for fundraising and development efforts. Parker said if the board could find the money, the position would likely “pay for itself.”

The City Park Academy board is scheduled to approve the final budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year at its next regular monthly meeting June 18.

Correction: New Orleans Charter Schools Foundation is the board that governs McDonough City Park Academy. An earlier version of this story incorrectly named a different board.

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.