The Friends of King charter organization is planning a 2 percent pay cut for faculty and staff at Joseph A. Craig Charter School, one of its two schools. Doris Roché-Hicks, Friends of King Schools’ chief executive officer, cited budget constraints in announcing the salary reduction.

Several Craig employees were laid off over the summer for the same reason, Roché-Hicks told staff in an email. She didn’t say precisely how many were let go.

She outlined the salary cuts in an email sent to staff on Aug. 16:

Due to limited funding, in order to ensure that we were able to keep each of you in your current positions, we were forced to cut salaries by 2%. This averages approximately $34, per paycheck.

In a letter sent out to faculty four days later, Roché-Hicks said “the minimal cut may be made up” if the staff chooses to participate in “staff development activities.”

She also said that a “state raise” will come through next paycheck. She may have been referring to a change in the state’s share of the Minimum Foundation Program, Louisiana’s formula for allocating per-student public dollars to schools.

Orleans Parish schools will get more local money than last year due to an increase in property assessments and tax revenue from the 2013 Super Bowl. But that means the state’s share of the Minimum Foundation Program will go down. Both state and local tax dollars fund a child’s education, and when a parish gets more local funds, the state reduces its allocation.

The budget woes are likely the result of an expected $671,187 deficit at Craig that board members discussed earlier this year. The deficit was highlighted in a draft budget provided to The Lens in May. (The deficit ended up being about $848,000.)

At the board’s May meeting, board president Hilda Young said the shortage was caused by decreased special-education funding and increased transportation costs. The board voted to use its line of credit to cover the deficit. The summer layoffs followed, according to the letter Roché-Hicks sent to staff.

Roché-Hicks directed The Lens’ questions about the deficit and the pay cuts to Tracie Washington, Friends of King’s lawyer. Washington didn’t respond to The Lens’ questions, but she provided documents in response to a public-records request.

Friends of King board members have complained before about the Recovery School District’s failure to evaluate and classify special-needs students. RSD officials have disputed this claim, saying that some students are in the process of being evaluated when their schools are handed off to new charter operators, who are then responsible for completing the evaluations.

Roché-Hicks said at a November board meeting that this issue is costing the charter school organization thousands of dollars because each student evaluation can cost up to $2,500. Washington said at that meeting that some of the nearly 100 special-needs students at Craig had not been evaluated when Friends of King took over the school.

Chris Hines, chief operating officer of Crescent City Schools, said its three schools also are not reimbursed for evaluation costs. Some special-education funding can be used to cover those costs, he said, but that decreases how much money is available for overall special-education services.

Clarification: This story was changed after publication to clarify that the deficit figure cited is what was expected before the end of the fiscal year. The final figure was about $848,000. (Nov. 21, 2013)

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...