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John McDonogh may lose one of its principals

John McDonogh High School will likely have to let go of one of its two principals and cut salaries this year due to enrollment-related budget woes, charter management leader Steve Barr said during a Friday board meeting.

Barr, the CEO of the national charter organization Future Is Now, said the school’s local board would be discussing staff cuts in the next couple of weeks.

“I wish I was a billionaire, and I could just cut a bunch of checks,” Barr said. “But I’m not. And the numbers don’t lie.”

He didn’t say which of John McDonogh’s two principals would be let go, if the board approves.

Principal Marvin Thompson has been at the school since it was taken over by Future Is Now Schools at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. He was featured in the reality documentary television series “Blackboard Wars,” produced by the Oprah Winfrey Network. The series advertised John McDonogh’s “transformation” into a new charter, but received backlash from parents and community members who felt that the students were negatively portrayed.

Principal Angela Kinlaw was just hired by John McDonogh officials in July to oversee the school’s incoming freshman for a $115,000 salary. Over the summer, Barr told staff and board members that students show up in ninth grade “dramatically unprepared,” and so need the most attention.

The issue of staff cuts arose from a discussion about the school’s 70-student decline from the 2013-14 projected enrollment. The school is looking at about $2.9 million in non-fundraising revenue this year, versus the nearly $3.6 million that John McDonogh leaders anticipated.

The projected enrollment fell to 300 from 370 students.

“We’re losing a principal, and all are taking a 20 percent cut, too,” Barr said during the meeting. After the meeting, he clarified that the decision wasn’t final yet.

“I can only do so much. I can only raise so much money for an organization that has so many kids,” he added. “This is the end of the money that we have, and we’ve got to make cuts.”

Bill Kiolbasa, the national organization’s chief financial officer, also clarified after the meeting that while some staff members would be facing pay cuts of up to 20 percent, others may see a lesser hit to their paychecks. The board would try to take into consideration “individual circumstances,” he added.

Kiolbasa presented a new budget projection at the meeting that showed an anticipated net cash reserve of $220,000 by the end of the year. The school would still need to raise $400,000 to make that reserve a reality.

Personnel expenses were expected to drop to about $2.4 million from just over $2.9 million, according to the new budget projection.

“You can’t choose to cut your electric bill,” Kiolbasa said. “You can’t just call Entergy and say that’s the service that you’d like to cut.”

In a principal’s report, Thompson said that while the projected enrollment decreased, the number of students who were attending school every day was rising.

School-wide, John McDonogh saw 92 percent of students in attendance in late September, versus 65 percent in late August.

“This suggests that the climate of the school and what the kids are doing are getting kids to school every day,” Thompson said.

School leaders also discussed how to attract new students. Some options included amending the charter to include overaged eighth graders.

“We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to get them in this school,” Barr said. “There’s a lot of great things going on here, and an amazing staff, but I can’t print money.”

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About Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Hasselle lived in New York for 10 years. While up north, she produced and anchored news segments, wrote feature stories and reported breaking news for, a hyperlocal news site. Before that, she worked at the New York Daily News. She obtained her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She can be reached at (917) 304-6121.

  • nickelndime

    I am sure that if Steve continues on his chosen path, he will be a billionaire. This is Louisiana, and we are in New Orleans. Of course, the academic lives of many students will have been lost, and the most experienced, knowledgeable, and credentialed teachers will not be there, but there will be Steve, a principal, and a bunch of non-classroom (non-teaching) personnel who will float in between floors (and never see the inside of a classroom) and lower the student-to-teacher ratio! And then we have John! And Patrick! And BESE! And the LDOE! blah blah blah

  • scotchirish

    When they got public schools up to the $300,000 per annum level for classes, the raptors got interested. Where does all that money go in the so-called traditional system?

  • nickelndime

    Aye, the traditional system! Therein lies the rub. For you see, my scotchirishfriend, it is as corrupt as the new.

  • scotchirish

    That’s what I was getting at. Thanks. As Earl Long said (paraphrasing), reform is getting the fat hogs out and letting the skinny hogs in, though in this case the new hogs look fat. Vulnerability of the “traditional” system to “reform” is not attributable “traditional” innocence or competence.