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Lusher vs. The World Charter's Leaders Decide To Fight Equity At All Cost



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.

Robert Morris of the Uptown Messenger live-blogged Lusher’s emergency board meeting – you can read his commentary from the meeting here.

Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger also sent another letter to parents on Friday afternoon asking them to sign a petition at 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.

From Riedlinger's Friday letter to parents.

From Riedlinger’s Friday letter to parents.

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…

The "hold harmless" provision from the new funding plan.

The “hold harmless” provision from the new funding plan.

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.

The funding weights in the proposed funding formula for New Orleans schools.

The funding weights in the proposed funding formula for New Orleans schools.

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.

From the live blog of the Uptown Messenger.

From the live blog of the Uptown Messenger.

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.

From the live blog of the Uptown Messenger.

From the live blog of the Uptown Messenger.

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

There is a lot of misinformation about how much selective-admissions OPSB charters will lose under the proposed funding…

Posted by Peter C. Cook on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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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Peter Cook

Posted on 4 April 20164 April 2016 by Peter Cook comment image?iv=90″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Former Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek has filed a petition in federal court to intervene in the lawsuit brought by Lusher and Lake Forest charter schools against the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) over looming changes to the district’s school funding formula.Former State Superintendent Paul PastorekPastorek, who is a lawyer by trade, filed the intervention on behalf of a group of New Orleans public school parents of children with special needs. They’re asking the court to demand that OPSB take immediate action to formally approve the new funding formula, asserting that the current system discriminates against special education students and students of minority racial and ethnic backgrounds.The proposed plan allocates funds based on a weighted formula that more accurately reflects the added costs of serving children with special needs, English Language Learners, and at-risk and overage students. It is modeled on the funding system currently in use in the Recovery School District – whose schools serve a disproportionate number of the city’s highest-need students – in order to ensure that schools have the financial capacity to serve all students regardless of disability status.Background on the School Funding Fight: Quick Take: Kathy Riedlinger’s Pre-Emptive Strike (12/10/15) Check Your Privilege (1/26/16) Quick Take: Lusher’s Big Lie (2/24/16) School Funding: An RSD Principal’s View (2/25/16) Lusher vs. The World (2/27/16) A handful of selective-admissions charter schools under the oversight of OPSB would likely see an overall reduction in their annual funding since they enroll few students with special needs. 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..u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03{padding:0px;margin:0;padding-top:1em!important;padding-bottom:1em!important;width:100%;display:block;font-weight:bold;background-color:#eaeaea;border:0!important;border-left:4px solid #E74C3C!important;box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-moz-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-o-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);-webkit-box-shadow:0 1px 2px rgba(0,0,0,0.17);text-decoration:none}.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03:active,.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03:hover{opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms;text-decoration:none}.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03{transition:background-color 250ms;webkit-transition:background-color 250ms;opacity:1;transition:opacity 250ms;webkit-transition:opacity 250ms}.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03 .ctaText{font-weight:bold;color:#E74C3C;text-decoration:none;font-size:16px}.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03 .postTitle{color:#000;text-decoration:underline!important;font-size:16px}.u5ffc5b7a7e0de98aec36c016d7bf0e03:hover .postTitle{text-decoration:underline!important}RELATED:  Bobby Jindal: The Delusional Dictator of LouisianaLast month, the board approved a resolution that gives OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis the power to apportion district funds among the city’s public schools as he sees fit. Since Lewis was a member of the working group that devised the new formula, the resolution effectively allowed board members to approve the funding change without having to vote on it. In response, Lusher attorney James Brown filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lusher and Lake Forest, both selective-admissions OPSB charters, seeking to block the implementation of the plan.The families represented by Pastorek are worried that Lusher and Lake Forest’s legal challenge could derail the plan, and as a result, want the board to formally adopt the new funding formula without delay. As Pastorek said in a press release on the court filing:

“The parents are firmly opposed to the efforts by these two selective-enrollment schools to maintain a status quo formula that denies the neediest students the resources needed to assure them of an excellent education.”

Pastorek Press ReleaseView this document on ScribdLusher/Lake Forest Filing Against OPSBView this document on Scribd comment image?iv=90″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Related GET PE+CO UPDATES IN YOUR INBOXFill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive notifications of new posts by email. We will never share your information or send you unsolicited emails. Subscribe Please check your email inbox to confirm. Powered by&nbspRapidology

Leila A. D\'Aquin
Leila A. D\'Aquin

I suppose Peter Cook uses a young child’s photo to identify himself because that suits the level of discussion in which he intends to engage.
There is so much misinformation and distortion in this writing, that it is difficult to decide where to begin. Cook knows nothing about 14th Amendment jurisprudence. Nothing. He forgets that the RSD was never to take control of the long-time successful public schools in Orleans Parish. Never. Yet this scandalous ploy is nothing more and nothing less than a power play through which RSD and the money-grubbers to whom it outsources almost everything (and who then skim the cream from the top of school funding to line their pockets) seek to take control of and dismantle the schools that thrived under local control before Katrina and have continued to thrive.
The RSD has welcomed one after another private interest charter operator through its revolving door, every other year slapping new names onto schools it was supposed to turn around & then return to local control. It has chased away career educators, and hired in their place too many twenty-somethings who will hold what frequently amounts to a paid internship (for whose 6 weeks of training and placement TFA is handsomely paid), through which they come to realize that teaching requires professional training that they lack and consists of hard work of a type they are not interested in doing.
All of the children of Orleans Parish deserve for their education to be funded in the same way and at the same level as the children in the rest of Louisiana. The current funding formula provides a substantial enhancement for special needs children, and it provides the same level of enhancement regardless of the parish in which the child lives. Likewise, it provides a smaller enhancement — in uniform manner — for other children requiring special education services.
Cook’s belief that the RSD’s failures should be blamed on non-RSD schools; that the reward for success should be a slashed budget, while the reward for failure should be more money to spend on more consultants and private interests seeking to profit from public education tax dollars; and that it is acceptable to use special needs children as pawns in a shell game, is outlandish. His suggestion is that rather than looking for ways to enhance special needs programs with new revenues the resources dedicated to regular education in Orleans Parish only should be stolen. This is not a heroic Robin Hood approach: it is a load of propaganda and an attempt to hoodwink the people of Orleans Parish, particularly by providing false information to the many who do not have children in public school and who Cook hopes will simply accept the hyped emotional deception and not give it another thought.
There is a reason for the attempt to rush this issue to judgment: its proponents know that if given due consideration, the proposal will be rejected because it lacks any foundation in reality or in the articulated policies and goals of this state.

Adam Levine
Adam Levine

Peter Cook argues that Lusher administrators are misleading parents without ever laying out clear arguments for how this is occurring. The argument that BESE is acting precipitously without normal due process seems valid. Efforts to raise objections have been met with “stonewalling” tactics. Happy to slow down and get the right answers on behalf of our children. I’d be curious to know whether Peter Cook has been hired as a PR consultant for BESE?

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A Sibling Dispute In Court Could Spell Trouble for Smothers Academy Charter School's CEO Is Accused Of Financial Impropriety In Lawsuit Filed By Brother



The CEO of a local charter management organization, which was investigated by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) after a report on this blog raised questions about its management and financial practices, is being accused of financial impropriety in a lawsuit filed by his own brother.

On March 28th, I published a post – “Red Flags Everywhere” – which highlighted troubling issues at Smothers Academy, a Type 2 charter school in Jefferson Parish. It noted that the school appeared to be in violation of state ethics laws prohibiting nepotism, seeing that Smothers Academy’s CEO Damon Smothers had hired his brother, Kemic Smothers, as the organization’s legal counsel and director of procurement. The piece also drew attention to several concerns surfaced in Smothers Academy’s F.Y. 2017 audited financial statements, including the assertion that Damon Smothers had spent over $9300 on the school’s credit card for personal expenses.

Read my original piece on Smothers Academy:

Red Flags Everywhere | PE + CO

A review of documents from a Jefferson Parish charter operator that applied to run a historic high school in New Orleans has revealed that the organization could be violating state ethics laws and has been flagged for serious deficiencies in its management and accounting practices.

A week later, LDOE officials sent a letter to Eddie Williams, president of the board of directors of Smothers Academy, requesting documentation related to the problems identified in their audit. On April 17th, LDOE sent a second letter to Williams, which formally notified the board that Smothers Academy was in violation of the state’s nepotism laws and instructed them to terminate the employment of either Damon or Kemic Smothers by June 30th. As a result, Kemic was fired that same day.

Yet it appears that he is refusing to go without a fight.

Court documents reveal that Kemic is now suing his brother Damon (along with Smothers Academy, Inc., two members of the board of directors, and the school’s CFO Mark DeBose) for breach of contract, violation of the whistleblower statute, retaliatory discharge, and fraud.

Smothers Academy CEO Damon Smothers (left) is being sued by his brother Kemic (right), who previously served as the school’s legal counsel and director of procurement.

In a petition filed with the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in July, Kemic claims that he was summoned to an April 5th meeting with his brother and CFO Mark DuBose in which they revealed that Damon had “gifted himself” $20,000 drawn from the school’s bank account without the knowledge or consent of the board of directors. They then asked Kemic to devise a way for Damon to keep the money without having to inform the board or repay it. However, Kemic refused, noting that the unauthorized allocation of funds was almost certainly illegal.

Kemic goes on to assert that he was subsequently terminated on April 17th – as opposed to June 30th when his contract officially ended – for refusing to help Damon hide the $20,000 he had taken from the school’s bank account. According to the lawsuit, “Damon Smothers insinuated that Kemic Smothers was not a team player and that he should have found a way for Damon Smothers to avoid repaying the $20,000.00.”

It should be noted that accusations made in Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit are simply that: accusations. The court has not ruled on the merits of the case. Nevertheless, in light of the board’s lax financial oversight and Damon’s questionable use of the school’s credit card, these latest allegations should be investigated to ensure that Smothers Academy administrators are not enriching themselves at the expense of their students.

Read Kemic Smothers’ lawsuit against his brother:

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



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.


Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA

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