The governing board for Lusher Charter School planned to dip $641,000 into its reserve funds to balance its $16.2 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

But the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision regarding voucher school funding could offset some of that amount.

The court in May ruled it unconstitutional for the state to fund the voucher school program using the state’s per-pupil minimum foundation program. The result could mean $445,900 more for Lusher than they originally budgeted for.

Lynden Swayze, chief financial officer, attributed Lusher’s revenue shortfall to continued increases in contributions to the state’s teacher retirement system and rising costs for employee health benefits.

Swayze said the Orleans Parish School Board, which oversees the high-performing kindergarten-12th grade charter school, is not anticipating any increases in state per-pupil funding from last school year.

Lusher’s budget is based on the state paying $8,168 per student. With a projected enrollment of 1,715 students, the school expects to receive $7.26 million from the state, up slightly over the $7.19 million the school received last year for 1,697 students.

Local property and sales taxes will bring in $6.8 million in revenue to Lusher next year.

The proposed budget calls for $2.58 million in teacher retirement contributions, up $256,000, or 11 percent, as compared to last year. Retirement contributions have increased by $1.1 million since 2010, Swayze said.

Asked whether Lusher has considered dropping out of the state pension plan like the majority of other charters in the city, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger said the school has committed to the state retirement system due to its largely veteran teaching staff.

The school expects to pay $702,225 in employee health benefits next year, up 7 percent over 2012-2013.

According to Swayze, the cost of group health benefits has risen roughly 40 percent over the past seven years.

The school, which is run by the nonprofit Advocates for Arts-Based Education Corporation, is projected to spend $6.3 million on salaries for its 116 teachers, up 2 percent as compared to last year.

Administrative salaries will cost the school $1.1 million, an increase of .5 percent.

Swayze said the increases are due to the school hiring two new teachers for next year and filling one administrative position that was open last year.

Salaries and benefits for Lusher employees total $9.77 million and account for 79 percent of Lusher’s total budget.

Other expenses the school has incurred include a 2 percent fee the Orleans Parish School Board withholds from Lusher’s local and state revenues to fund administrative services.

The Orleans Parish School Board also has passed on the cost of insuring Lusher’s two campuses on Freret and Willow streets, Swayze said.

She said the additional expenses from OPSB started in the middle of last school year.

Lusher is projecting approximately $226,000 in federal grant money, Swayze said. Unlike the majority of New Orleans public schools, Lusher does not receive federal Title I money because its population of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch is not high enough, Swayze said.

“It’s unfortunate and really puzzling,” Swayze said. “Because we’re such a large school, we have a higher disadvantaged student population than some schools have total students.”

Nineteen percent of Lusher students qualify for the national free or reduced price lunch program compared with the state average of 66 percent.

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.