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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 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.

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

Written by Peter Cook

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.

38 Comments

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  1. 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.

    • I hope you can string together a better argument for your clients, counselor, than you can on this issue. Jesus. So your response to my post is to ignore the facts and simply engage in character attacks against me, RSD, TFA, charter school operators, and anyone else who happens to disagree with your position on this issue?

      Please point out, specifically, where I said…

      a) The RSD’s failures should be blamed on non-RSD schools;
      b) That the reward for success should be a slashed budget;
      c) That the reward for failure should be more money to spend on more consultants and private interests seeking to profit from public education tax dollars;
      d) That it is acceptable to use special needs children as pawns in a shell game.

      Could you also please explain why OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the Orleans Public Education Network, New Schools for New Orleans, VAYLA, Stand for Children, the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, and Kids ReThink New Orleans Schools ALSO SUPPORT this proposal. Are all of these groups equally as evil as I am? Are they all also out to rob and steal from your school?

      Until you answer these questions and offer up an argument based on the actual facts involved – not hot-headed, vacuous assertions about the motivations of the funding plan’s supporters – you’re just going to sound selfish and ignorant.

      • Here is the biography you offer to others: “Peter became involved in education reform in New Orleans Public Schools as a 2002 Teach For America corps member and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP and the Recovery School District. He now works as a consultant helping districts transform their organizations to better serve the needs of low-income students.”
        You are not a career educator. Instead, you are a person who dabbled in public school classrooms for a very short time, changed jobs frequently, and then went on to try to reap the financial rewards of a “consultant.” You have nowhere near enough years of experience in life, much less in public education, to be qualified to consult or assist anyone in transforming anything. When you spend 10-15 years as a classroom teacher and another 15-20 as a school administrator then, perhaps, you might be qualified. Right now, you are just a kid who has been job-hopping since college and who is using your blog to promote the financial interests of the very entities that pay you to “consult” for them. In other words, you are a lobbyist seeking to line your own pockets, not an educator.
        When you pretend that public education funding for children in New Orleans should not follow them to their school, as the education funding for every other child in the state does, but should instead be turned over to a state agency (the RSD) which will then allocate less money to successful, locally-controlled schools and more money to unsuccessful schools run by the RSD and out-of-state charter organizations (many of which are for-profit companies), you say and promote all of the items you list. What explanation can you offer for the committee’s cancellation of 3 of its 5 scheduled meetings; its exclusion of the voices of the parents and teachers of the children whose education funds are to be stolen under the formula, or the attempt to grant the RSD control of the finances of the long-time successful locally-controlled schools that it was never authorized to control?
        And please do not take the Lord’s name in vain if you reply. It’s offensive.

        • I know that some of the rhetoric from Lusher and Audubon (like the parent letter they sent) included confusing information, misleading facts, and divisive language. I think some of that information might have trickled down here and I thought I’d try to clear some things up.

          Our district doesn’t provide special schools and programs for special needs students. Because the schools provide those themselves, the special education funding should follow the student to the school. This is why we need a unique funding structure for a unique all charter district.
          You say that the enhancement OPSB schools get for special needs students is “substantial.” By that I think you mean it’s enough to educate special needs kids. This isn’t accurate. You might not understand how funding high-needs students work because Lusher doesn’t have these kinds of students. A student with cerebral palsy that requires a one-on-one paraprofessional in addition to their teacher should receive the extra funding at their school. Are you saying that schools with high-needs students should not follow the federal government’s laws? Because without the money to fund these services, schools would be forced to break the law.
          Everyone will get the same amount of money in the new system. Right now, Lusher is getting more than their fair share. Fairness seems important to you so I can’t see why you aren’t behind this.
          Though you say “many” of our schools are run by for-profit companies, this isn’t true in any sense of the word. State law prevents it.
          I’m not sure which out of state charter school organizations you’re referring to. The only CMO that has a charter network outside of this city is KIPP. That’s 8 schools out of like 75. Most of the principals, networks, and teachers in this city are locally grown.
          Meetings were rescheduled, not cancelled.
          Your lack of awareness of your own privilege is showing here. Lusher is a selective-admissions school, which means its success is at least partially based on the fact that it selects the highest performing students to attend. It’s not like all of the schools in New Orleans have the same selective practices as Lusher and because they were mis-managed they failed. I’m not opposed to Lusher being a part of a portfolio of schools in the city, but let’s not pretend that it’s amazing management and educational practices that make Lusher successful. The RSD is full of teachers and administrators that are fighting for a day when all children in New Orleans get an excellent education, and the data shows that it’s pretty clear their efforts are moving our city in the right direction. It’s weird that someone is against that effort. I know lots of Lusher and Audubon teachers and parents that are for this differentiated funding proposal because they care for all students in New Orleans, not just their own. Just so you know, your comments come across as an attempt to protect your enclave of privilege. Those days should be over in Orleans Parish.

  2. 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?

    • Adam, this is my blog, so you can simply address your comments to me directly instead of using the third person.

      I’m not sure how you can argue BESE is acting precipitously. They haven’t even voted on it yet. You will have a chance to share your concerns with both the committee and full board when they take up the matter at their monthly meeting, just like the board does with every other matter it is asked to consider.

      What “stonewalling tactics” are you referring to? Who is stonewalling you? I’m not sure why there is a need to slow down on this issue – this has been in motion ever since the Governor signed Act 467 into law last July 1st. Why is there a need to further delay this issue, other than to give folks like Lusher’s board more time to figure out how they can derail it/rail against it?

      And, for the record, I have not been hired as PR for BESE – this plan isn’t coming from BESE and isn’t being steered by the state board. You need to check the information you’re getting about this because it’s incorrect.

        • ACT 467 does not only apply to New Orleans – I’ve explained the background to the bill here, under points 1 and 2: https://peterccook.com/2015/12/10/lusher-funding/. The short answer is that no other district in the state is almost entirely composed of charter schools. However, districts all across the state divide their funds differently, based on their specific needs. There’s a good explanation from the T-P’s Danielle Dreilinger here, too: http://s.nola.com/4E4URkH – she also points out the funding formula used by OPSB changed just last year, too.

        • I’m a former New Orleans public school teacher and administrator who cares deeply about making our public schools the best they can be. I didn’t create this blog and the one I write about education in the legislature in order to harsh Lusher’s mellow.

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