As a cafeteria full of concerned parents listened closely, the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans governing board approved $200,000 in cuts to the current year’s budget Monday night to make up for more spending and less revenue than expected just a few months ago, and hopefully restore the school to a path toward solvency by the end of the school year.
Left unresolved, however, was the school’s leadership issue. General Director Jean-Jacques Grandiere did not attend the meeting or the board’s 45-minute closed-door session about his status, and board chair Jean Montes suggested that “other options” to lead the school are being explored during Grandiere’s absence.
[Update: For a copy of the revised budget, click here.]
Plugging the holes
The board meeting began with an extensive, 45-minute discussion of the school’s financial issues led by new finance director Julianne Ruocco. The school ended its last fiscal year this summer with an operating deficit of $85,000, which came from a number of sources, Ruocco said. The school had a shortfall in its state per-pupil funding because not all students started at the beginning of the year, and the school also provided an inaccurate count of its free and reduced lunch students, reducing its federal funding, for example.
No money is missing, however, Ruocco stressed.
“It’s just an operating loss. It’s not theft or anything like that,” Ruocco said. “We know what it is, and where it is. We just spent more than we took in.”
To offset that year-end loss, Ruocco proposed a new budget for 2012-13 that eliminates the $90,000 reserve fund originally proposed, and instead to “focus on our solvency this year.” The new budget also makes about $200,000 in other changes. On the revenue side, the fee revenue and the state per-pupil funding must be reduced by about $260,000, because they were overestimated in the original budget. The LA4 funding and some federal funding were underestimated by about $60,000, however, so the total reduction in revenue is about $200,000, leaving the school budget at $2.9 million.
To offset those changes, the revised budget reduces expenses in a number of ways. The biggest change from a financial standpoint was to change the employees’ health plan from a no-deductible policy to a low-deductible policy, plus adjusting retirement contribution rates and taxes for a reduction of $176,000. The budget also reduces salaries by $26,000 to $1.58 million by restructuring lunch and aftercare duties among administrators — reflecting the layoffs of three employees reported next week.
Among other expenses, the revised budget increases the amount spent on professional services such as data management and closing the previous year’s books. It increases the utility costs to the amount being spent, but reduces janitorial costs after a cleaning service was hired instead of a full-time janitor. It also reduces the amount to be spent on materials and supplies to essentially stop at what’s been spent.
Finally, the budget now includes the school’s food service, which was not originally included. Ruocco estimates the services generate $85,000 but cost $105,000 for a $20,000 because of the initial startup costs, but next year — when a number of this year’s purchases can be reused — the food service will break even or make a small profit.
The revisions to the budget will put the school back “in the black” by the end of the school year, Ruocco concluded, drawing strong praise from the school board.
“This presentation was fabulous,” said board member Dan Henderson. “It was clear and concise, and it gives me confidence that we’re on the right track that we have someone who can look after our finances.”
Many parents in the audience, however, were more concerned, specifically over whether more staff cuts might be needed later. One asked the board for assurances that no cuts would be made to the instructional team, another asked that any future cuts be discussed in public before being made by an administrator, and another parent asked that the board delay a vote on the revised budget until the school’s general director Jean-Jacques Grandiere could discuss it with parents.
The board did not respond to the comments before voting to revise the budget.
After a handful of quick committee reports, the board turned to its other major topic of the evening — a closed-door session to discuss Grandiere. He was absent from last week’s contentious meeting of the school parent-teacher organization, and Montes said Grandiere was still sick Monday night and unable to attend. Asked by a reporter from The Lens if Grandiere was made aware of the planned session and his legal option to have it held in public, the board replied that he had been emailed about it but that he did not respond.
After about 45 minutes behind closed doors, the board returned and Montes said they are concerned about Grandiere’s absence.
“We hope that he’s going to be back with us on Nov. 19,” Montes said. “But we might have to find some other options with him moving forward.”
In the meantime, the school may need to find other people to take the lead, Montes said, calling it a “very difficult time” but without explaining further.
Representatives from the French consulate and for CODOFIL (the agency that places French teachers in Louisiana schools) had requested to meet with the board in private for a number of reasons, including the cooperation between the French government and Lycee and an issue involving teacher’s visas. Amid questions about whether such a conversation could be held in a closed-door session under Louisiana open-meetings law, however, the board opted to defer that discussion.