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Quick Take: Lusher’s Big Lie Financial Reports Reveal Surpluses in 2014 & 2015

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It appears that officials at Lusher Charter School are doubling down on their promise to fight a proposed change in the way public schools are funded in New Orleans.

Up to now, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and Recovery School District (RSD) have used different formulas to fund their respective schools. The new proposal would establish a unified funding formula for the city’s public schools modeled on the one now used by the RSD, which allocates funds based on the number of special needs, ELL, at-risk, and overage students at each school.

Lusher and other OPSB selective admissions charters would likely see an overall reduction in their annual funding since they serve a disproportionally small percentage of the city’s highest-need students. However, the proposed plan would ease the transition for these schools by phasing in the adjustment over time and capping annual funding decreases at two percent. As a result, the plan is backed by a majority of the city’s charter schools, as well as by RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard and OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis.


Background on the funding change:

Check Your Privilege


Nevertheless, Lusher officials seem hellbent on fighting the funding plan, which will be considered by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) at its monthly meeting next week. Lusher officials have been urging parents to attend next week’s BESE meeting to voice their opposition to the plan. A large crowd of Lusher community members are also expected at tonight’s RSD Committee of the Whole meeting, which is being held at Sci Academy at 6:00pm.

The Uptown Messenger also reported this weekend that Lusher’s board of directors is threatening to file a lawsuit to block the new funding plan. Board members will decide whether to proceed with litigation at a special meeting this coming Saturday.

Financial Reports Reveal Lusher’s Big Lie

Why are Lusher officials so opposed to the funding changes? Well, they claim that the proposed funding formula will have a disastrous impact on their school’s finances. In a recent letter to parents, Kathy Riedlinger & Co. stated that “historically successful schools” would see their budgets “gutted” under the new formula and claimed Lusher “will lose more than $1,277,000 annually.”

However, a review of Lusher’s annual financial reports filed with Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor reveal that the school has ended up with budget surpluses totaling more than $1.4 million in 2014 and 2015 – i.e., Lusher made significantly more money than it spent over the past two years.

According to the school’s audited financial reports, Lusher ended F.Y. 2014 with a net surplus of $1,620,539.

Lusher had $1,620,000 surplus at the end of F.Y. 2014.

Lusher had $1,620,000 surplus at the end of F.Y. 2014.

Furthermore, this past year, Lusher ended up with a net surplus of $1,429,471.

Lusher's surplus in F.Y. 2015 was $1,429,000.

Lusher’s surplus in F.Y. 2015 was $1,429,000.

So, even if the claims made by Lusher officials were true and the school faced a $1.2 million funding cut next year (it doesn’t, the 2% cap means the maximum reduction would actually be about $219,000), it would have zero impact on the school, as Lusher’s revenues have exceeded expenses by a significant margin.

In short, Lusher’s opposition to the new funding plan has nothing to do with defending the school against an existential financial threat. It’s about defending the school’s privileged position within the public school system at all cost.

Lusher Audited Financial Report for F.Y. 2014

Lusher Audited Financial Report for F.Y. 2015

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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val mcginley

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val mcginley

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/702863633332604928#favorited-by-29821334

School Funding: An RSD Principal’s View – PE + CO

This Article was mentioned on peterccook.com

Dr. Vera Triplett

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Dr. Vera Triplett

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/702632293806919681#favorited-by-1358096533

Dr. Vera Triplett

RT @petercook: #Lusher says new funding plan will cost school $1.2m; omits they had $1.4m surplus last yr: pcook.me/1cIHT

J Mclaughlin

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J Mclaughlin

https://twitter.com/petercook/status/702630140967153664#favorited-by-2612400367

Mr. Ankrum

@petercook PC what are they spending on students w/ a surplus like that?

Julie
Julie

Let’s put it another way. All the money that goes to New Orleans students is one big pile of money. Lusher students (and all OPSB students) have been getting more than their fair share of that pile, and now there is a movement to make it more fair so that all kids in New Orleans, regardless of where they go to school, get the same amount of funding to educate them.

Last year, Lusher built its budget on $8578 per student.

Last year, RSD schools built their budget on $7300 per student.

RSD schools receive additional funding for each student if they have special needs and services must be provided. For example, if a student needs speech services, the school receives an additional $1400. If a student is autistic and needs a one-on-one paraprofessional, the school receives an additional $23,000. This formula was agreed upon and put into place by the RSD leadership to respond to student needs at the school level. OPSB does not divvy up the special education money it receives from the federal government this way. The money does not follow the student.

In the new formula, the base for all children would be the same throughout the city, and the special education money would follow the student. This means that regular education students, those without disabilities, would all get the same amount of funding. However, Lusher and OPSB schools have far fewer special education students, which means they would get less special education money overall. Right now, Lusher has fewer than 5% of its students who need special services. My school has 19% needing services. A full third of my staff is dedicated to those students, and those services (which are federally mandated) cost money.

This isn’t about taking money from one set of schools (the “high performers” like Lusher) and giving it to those of us in the “historically failing and mismanaged schools.” This is about Lusher and OPSB schools resisting a funding change that funds each New Orleans child’s education at the same amount.

Lusher is arguing that Lusher students, by virtue of being selected to attend Lusher, deserve MORE of their fair share than other New Orleans students. Of course, Lusher will say that they need these funds to deliver the high-quality education, art, and sports programs. But I think we all agree that EVERY child in New Orleans deserves a high quality experience at school. Should Lusher students get smaller class sizes? Higher paid teachers? Higher-quality art facilities? More field trips? Because that’s what $1200 more per child buys them. It’s one thing to create an enclave of privilege because it selects for academic achievement. It’s a whole other thing to then say that these students deserve more than other students.

And let’s look at the results of giving the dozen OPSB schools more money per child than the 75 RSD schools. Lusher has 18 million dollars in an endowment. That means that they have extra money each year that they put away, and that extra money gives them $340,000 each year as income. I spend that same amount ($400,000) to provide transportation to the children in my school each day, a practice that Lusher chooses not to engage in. And unless Lusher has 260 staff members, they are spending WAY more than the typical RSD school on staff salaries.

If we as a city agree that Lusher students deserve more because they are academically higher achieving, then we should at least be transparent about it. Instead of having an unequal funding structure, we should create a “special kids deserve more” fund and allocate it from the big pile of money that all New Orleans students share. But until we as a city agree that certain kids deserve more because they belong to a certain school, then we should fund all kids equally.

Josh McCarty

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Josh McCarty

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Sean Duncan

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Sean Duncan

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Laura Hawkins

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Laura Hawkins

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Charters

Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education

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On January 15th, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter Schools that have emerged over the past several months.

Last fall, the State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein to open a new charter school in Little Rock after Einstein officials assured board members that they would provide transportation to students. This was the same promise they made to the Orleans Parish School Board last year as part of their charter renewal agreement. As we now know, they cannot be be taken at their word.

For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I’ve decided to publish my original letter, which I’ve reproduced in full below.


Dear Board Members,

In September, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans to open a new K-3 school in Little Rock School District. Today, I am writing to urge you to reconsider that decision in light of a series of troubling revelations about Einstein that have emerged here in New Orleans in the intervening months.

On September 19th, just five days after SBOE approved Einstein’s charter application, the Orleans Parish School Board issued an official notice of non-compliance [see notice here] to Einstein’s CEO and board president for failing to provide bus transportation to students as required by the terms of their charter. District officials became aware of this breach-of-contract after a parent reported that Einstein had refused to provide yellow bus service for her two children (5 and 10 years old) and instead offered them public transit tokens. News reports subsequently revealed that Einstein had been refusing to provide bus transportation to dozens of students.

Six weeks later, on November 7th, Einstein was issued another notice of non-compliance [see notice here] by the Orleans Parish School Board for enrolling 26 students outside of OneApp, the city-wide enrollment system that assigns students to New Orleans’ public schools. In fact, the notice indicates that district officials previously investigated enrollment violations at Einstein in 2016 and had told administrators that the charter network needed to implement internal systems and procedures to ensure they were in compliance with the OneApp process.

These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children – regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status – have fair and equal access to our public schools. Since Hurricane Katrina, all of the city’s open enrollment schools – both charter and traditional – have been required to provide free bus transportation to children in pre-K through sixth grade, no matter where they live in the city. Moreover, the Orleans Parish School Board renewed Einstein’s charter last year on the condition that school provide transportation to its students.

In 2012, district officials launched OneApp to simplify the enrollment process by allowing parents to fill out only one application in which they rank schools in order of preference. These preferences are then fed into an algorithm developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which in turn, assigns students to schools. OneApp ensures that schools cannot engage in so-called “creaming” or turn away students with disabilities. All schools are required to participate in OneApp and all are prohibited from enrolling students outside of the system.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s leaders have responded to the school board’s warnings with outright defiance. As a result, the district is now seeking a court order to force Einstein to comply with the busing requirement. According to The Lens, a local non-profit news outlet, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto responded to the OneApp non-compliance notice with a letter stating they had “simply accepted children whose parents had chosen one of its schools — a hallmark of the charter movement.” She has also taken to the pages of the New Orleans Advocate in an unconvincing attempt to deflect criticism of the school, as if the rules should not apply to them.

Finally, I want to make something very clear: I am outspoken supporter of charter schools. As a former charter school board member and teacher, I have seen the impact that high-quality charters can have on the lives of children. At the same time, I also firmly believe that charter schools are only successful when they adhere to clear operational and academic standards. Given their blatant disregard for the terms of their charter contracts in New Orleans (and the possibility that they could lose their charter if they continue to defy the district), I would once again urge you to reconsider Einstein’s expansion to Little Rock.

If you would like to read more about Einstein’s charter violations:

Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA

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Charters

All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-02.52.38
Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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