The Lusher Charter School governing board voted Wednesday night in favor of a structural change that will place it more directly in charge of federal funds for special education and other services, with less involvement from the Orleans Parish School Board.
The board’s unanimous vote was in favor of Lusher becoming a what is known as a “Local Educational Authority,” which serves as the conduit for federal funds for special-education and other services, receiving the money directly, distributing it as needed, and reporting for its use back to the federal government. OPSB previously served this role for all its schools, coordinating the services but using part of the money to pay for the centralized administration of those services.
Unlike the OPSB, Recovery School District charters served this role for themselves, and enabling them to keep doing so was a key condition paving the way for their upcoming return to OPSB administration. Because those RSD schools will remain their own LEAs, the OPSB is now offering that option to their own schools for the first time — and Audubon Charter, for example, has already voted in favor of doing so.
The more schools that become their LEAs, the less funding that OPSB will have to run its own central office for those services, officials have said. Now that the OPSB is simultaneously seeking to make its direct-run schools charters, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger said it is likely that the OPSB’s involvement in special education will continue to shrink.
“I think the handwriting’s kind of on the wall, with services from central office,” Riedlinger told the board.
For example, Lusher currently shares an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher with Audubon Charter who is an employee of the OPSB, which works out the scheduling between the two schools. When Lusher and Audubon become their own LEAs, they’ll receive the federal money to pay for that position directly, but will have to coordinate it themselves — contracting it out perhaps even to the same educator who does the job now.
“It’s not a new model. It’s just the scale of it is going to go way up,” Riedlinger says.
Likewise, the majority of the new work for Lusher’s administration will focus on collecting data about its special-education programs and reporting it to the state directly, instead of to the OPSB. Riedlinger said she has personally investigated the amount of revenue the school will receive versus its expenses, and recouping the administrative fees from the OPSB will be a benefit to Lusher.
“We’ll receive more federal money. We’ll be able to pay for more of those special-ed services,” Riedlinger said. She added later, “It’s the bigger charter schools that have more incentive to become an LEA. The smaller you are, the harder it is to do.”
The board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution in favor of the change, which will take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year that starts July 1.
The meeting is still ongoing. See below for live coverage.