The city’s public schools are getting unexpected windfalls.

The extra cash, about $39 million, is deferred revenue owed to the schools – the unintended result of a change in state law and a richer Orleans Parish.

Before the change, the Orleans Parish School Board – which collects and distributes local tax revenue for all public schools in the city – gave cash to Recovery School District schools based on whatever was on hand that year. But the parish school board’s own charters got revenue based on two-year-old calculations, and those charters weren’t required to help pay off the school board’s debt.

The 2010 change funds all schools based on the previous year’s tax revenues, and all public schools must now participate in debt repayment.

Here’s where the extra cash comes in: When projected budgets are based on past revenues, but the board collects more in taxes than was anticipated, it’s left with a surplus. And that’s exactly what has been happening in recent years, thanks to the increased value of city property and a one-time infusion of revenues from the 2013 Super Bowl.

The board gave its own schools some of that money in early April, and they’ll get another slug of money after the fiscal year ends June 30, according to Kathleen Padian, deputy superintendent of OPSB charter schools. The OPSB passed along the Recovery School District’s portion to state education officials in March.

It’s the second time in recent months that schools are getting more money. Because the board miscounted revenue in the 2011-12 fiscal year, schools were shorted by $7.8 million. The board corrected that error months ago, interim superintendent Stan Smith said, though some school leaders have confused the two disbursements, wrongly blaming the initial error for all the money now coming their way.

The amount of the surplus owed to schools has varied:

  • For 2010-11: $12,238,693
  • For 2011-12: $4,668,972
  • For 2012-13: $22,180,544

And the schools have likewise varying plans for what to do with their windfalls, which are awarded in proportion to the school’s enrollment.

Arise Academy and Success Preparatory Academy have indicated they may buy new computers, and FirstLine Schools is pondering whether the money allows breathing room and a chance to wait for market conditions to improve even more than they have before the charter network sells unneeded property.  

Amounts some charters are seeing:

  • Arise Academy: $663,755
  • Success Preparatory Academy: $175,000
  • FirstLine Schools (network of 5 schools): $3 million
  • New Beginnings (network of 4 schools): $1.9 million

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...