The governing board of New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School approved a $6.27 million budget Thursday that includes a minor deficit because of the last-minute addition of a new bus route, but officials say they expect to make up the shortfall quickly as the year begins.
“We do have a negative right now,” said board treasurer Jim Schnieders. “But I’m not terribly concerned about what we’re forecasting right now”
The budget is based on the expectation of 480 students for the current school year, with 72.5 full-time employees on staff, Schneiders said. The deficit is nearly $30,000 more than the $6.24 million in expected revenue.
The deficit emerged when the year began with more students than anticipated taking the school bus from the Westbank, forcing the school to add a second bus to that route. After a decision to discontinue the use of public-transit passes for students, the school then decided to add another bus in the Mid-City area to alleviate the pressure on the other routes as well. All told, those expenses increased transportation costs by about $60,000, Schnieders said.
The school is expecting two of its revenue figures to be revised upward however, more than eliminating the deficit. The school has still not received a final confirmation on its per-pupil funding for the year, and is using an even more conservative estimate than that being used by the Orleans Parish School Board until the number is final, Schneiders said.
Secondly, the school expects to receive about $23,000 more in federal Title I grant funding for at-risk students than it initially expected he said.
“That alone would eliminate most of the deficit,” Schneiders said.
School finance director Claudia Kent noted that this year’s budget process was the most inclusive yet in terms of participation from other school staff members.
“I feel there is more understanding of the nuts and bolts of what it takes to run a school this year,” Kent said.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, the board heard a report on goals for the year from the new principal, Dr. Monique Cola. In addition to general goals of improving student achievement and professional development, Cola described a number of specific items to focus on this year:
- Improve the school’s math scores on state tests. Cola said she was encouraged by the new curriculum that the math team has already adopted and the training they are receiving. “When I first came on board, math was one of the areas of concern for me,” Cola said. “But I think we’re going to be OK. I’m optimistic that we’re going to be OK.”
- Improve the school’s ACT score. Sci High nearly met its internal goal of an average of 19 on the ACT in 2017-18, but Cola said she would like to see it rise above 19.5 or even 20 this year. Students will receive more ACT prep during the school day this year, she said, and described her enthusiasm at meeting a student who had scored 32 on the math section: “He was blowing me away.”
- Ending a practice called “seat time recovery.” Students could easily make up class time they missed, but it was backfiring into creating a culture where attendance was seen as optional, so it has ended, Cola said. It is crucial, she said, that students are in the classroom the first time material is presented. Some parents liked the old system because of the flexibility it gave them in scheduling vacations, Cola said, but “the consensus is, it wasn’t working.”
- Creating “grand challenges” around global problems. Students will adopt a major engineering issue important to them — providing clean water, finding new sources of energy, or predicting and preventing natural disasters — and incorporate it across their subject matter throughout the year.
- Other goals for the year: Increasing student internships, creating a student council, and increasing dual enrollment with area colleges.