The high cost of educating students expelled from other schools has caused a budget shortfall at Crescent Leadership Academy, even after the Recovery School District boosted funding for those students.
The board that oversees Crescent Leadership Academy discussed the problem at its Feb. 18 meeting.
Its budget for the current school year called for $600,000 in funding to accommodate expelled students and to hire “a licensed clinical social worker, additional behavior mentors, and other resources for students,” Education Director Tracy Bennett-Joseph said at the meeting.
The school is on track to receive just $380,000 from the Recovery School District for expelled students, leaving a $220,000 shortfall, said C.J. Bower, Crescent Leadership Academy’s chief financial officer.
Staff said at the meeting that they could deal with the shortage by postponing a planned second location.
The funding gap stems from the fact that it costs more to educate students at Crescent Leadership Academy, an alternative school serving grades 7 through 12, than at a traditional school.
The state’s per-pupil funding formula “hovers around $8,000,” according to a Recovery School District describing the funding arrangement. “We estimate that it could cost upwards of $14,000 per year to educate and support a child with behavioral issues.”
According to Bower, a lot of the added cost is for security personnel in classrooms and hallways.
The state sends money to schools based on the enrollment on Oct. 1 and Feb. 1. Under the previous funding arrangement, schools that expelled students between those dates directed their remaining per-pupil funding — $44 per day — to Crescent Leadership Academy.
That didn’t cover the entire cost at Crescent, so the school and the RSD worked out another arrangement. Now schools that expel students pay $36 per student, per day. That’s on top of the $44 a day if the expelling school has already received state funds for the student.
The shortfall, Bower told The Lens, stems from the fact that the RSD is paying the supplement only for students who were expelled this year. About 80 students were expelled last year and are still at Crescent.
School officials had included those students when figuring out how much they would need from the RSD.
Bower said at the meeting that the school has presented the RSD with a breakdown of the numbers, but the school had not received word on a proposed solution.
RSD spokeswoman Cay Kimbrell told The Lens that the school is getting the appropriate amount of money based on the agreement.
“We set the funding levels based on CLA’s articulation of their financial needs, and CLA is on track to receive more additional funding than they said they needed originally,” she said by email. “We are working with CLA to better understand their needs and have not ruled out the possibility of changing our funding formula.”
Meanwhile, the school is working on a lease for the modular classrooms on its campus at 4300 Almonaster Ave. in eastern New Orleans.
“We have some concerns with the language in there,” said Joseph, referring to the original lease that expired in December. The agreement initially had Crescent Leadership Academy picking up the cost to send the modules to whatever location designated by the company that supplied the buildings.
The new lease will go through September, at which point the school will renegotiate the terms.
Principal Chauncey Nash said that the number of special education students jumped from 21 to 61 in one semester. He said he wants to make sure that Crescent Leadership Academy stays compliant and up-to-date with the state’s special-education guidelines.
“Last year, due to budgetary purposes, we did not get fully funded for the sp-ed [special education] kids to get services, so that’s the goal for this year,” said Nash.
Before the meeting was adjourned, the board voted in the newest member, Orleans Parish Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson. The board is still looking for another member to help with fundraising.
The meeting lasted about 30 minutes. All board members were present at the meeting: U.S. District Judge Helen “Ginger” Berrigan, Kevin P. Maney, Maurice Lightfoot, Jim Letten, Tommy McGinnis and Sean Trimber.
The next meeting will be held March 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the school.