It’s official. This morning, Lusher’s board of directors unanimously voted to file a lawsuit to block the implementation of a new school funding formula if the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) proceeds with a vote on the matter next week.
Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger also sent another letter to parents on Friday afternoon asking them to sign a petition at change.org that calls on BESE to delay their vote on the funding change next week [see full text of the letter below]. Sadly, the letter makes clear that Riedlinger is continuing to mislead parents and community members about the impact of the new funding formula, although it’s interesting to note that her rationale for opposing the proposal has changed.
In a January 25th email to parents, Riedlinger falsely claimed, “our school will lose more than $1,277,000 annually in addition to the $400,000 reduction we received this school year, and in total is 11.65% of Lusher’s operating budget.”
Now, Riedlinger acknowledges that new funding plan includes a provision that caps the annual reduction at 2%, but instead claims the “temporary 2% annual loss provision…is so complex that even our experienced school CFOs cannot verify the accuracy of the formula’s projected outcome.”
Here is the “hold harmless” provision from the funding plan that will be submitted to BESE members next week…
A note to Riedlinger and Lusher’s board members: If your Chief Financial Officer does not know how to subtract 2% from the amount your school received as of the October 1st, 2015 enrollment count, it’s time for you all to find a new CFO. This “complex” formula requires arithmetic, not calculus.
Riedlinger also claims that the new funding proposal “essentially defunds the Gifted and Talented programs,” which is a flat-out lie. The proposed formula still provides schools with an additional $375 per Gifted and Talented student enrolled, which is a reduction from the current OPSB formula, but is still adequate to provide needed services to those students.
A Shameful Lawsuit
A number of current Lusher parents have contacted me over the past two weeks to vent their anger over the misleading and inaccurate statements Riedlinger and board members have made about the impact of the proposed funding changes.
They should be angry. Not only have Lusher officials misled parents on this issue, but they’re now going to spend money – resources that could otherwise be spent on the education of Lusher’s students – on a lawsuit that the school is unlikely to win.
According to the Uptown Messenger, Lusher attorney James Brown plans to issue a demand letter claiming that the proposed funding formula for Orleans Parish violates the Louisiana Constitution.
But Brown is conflating two separate issues here: how the state funds districts vs. how districts divide that money among schools. The Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) formula that the State of Louisiana uses to fund districts is not changing – i.e., Orleans Parish is still going to get the same amount of money it would otherwise next year.
The funding plan that BESE will vote on next week only changes the way in which that money is divided among New Orleans schools. There is nothing in the Louisiana Constitution that prohibits districts from dividing those funds among schools as they see fit.
Brown also plans on arguing that the proposed funding formula would violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Think about that for a minute. Lusher is invoking a constitutional amendment, passed after the Civil War to enshrine the rights of newly freed slaves in law, in their attempt to block a plan that would equitably distribute funds in a district that primarily serves low income African-American families.
That takes a lot of gall. Shame on Kathy Riedlinger and Lusher’s board members.
Bonus: F.Y. 2014 & 2015 Financials from Lusher, Franklin, Audubon and Lake Forest
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