Lusher could face $1.2 million budget cut under proposed reallocation of school funds

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lusherA move to weight the state’s per-pupil funding much more heavily toward students in New Orleans with special needs could lead to a “devastating” budget cut of around $1.2 million at Lusher Charter School, officials said Saturday morning.

In the past, state tax dollars allocated to each student (known as Minimum Foundation Program money, or MFP funds) in New Orleans were distributed by the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board each according to their own formulas. The OPSB formula was the same used by all other school districts in the state, but the Recovery School District uses a formula that weights allocations more heavily toward at-risk or special-education students, with the amount increasing as needs become more severe.

Now, a new state law requires the OPSB and the RSD to come up with one formula to be used for all schools in New Orleans, said Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger. Because Lusher’s proportion of special-needs students is lower than other schools, the more the final compromise resembles what the Recovery School District is already using, the more state tax money Lusher will lose from its budget, which is $17 million for the current school year.

“We’re spending basically all of the money that we get to run this school. That pays for the lights, that pays for the salaries, it pays for the various programs we have, all of those things,” said Paul Barron, vice president of the school’s governing board, citing an estimate of the cost if the RSD formula is applied to Lusher. “If $1,255,000 would go away, do you have to turn out the lights? Cut teachers?”

In fact, the state had already moved toward a weighting system for this year, redistributing tax money to schools for categories that include gifted students in addition to special needs. That move cost Lusher $400,000, but Lusher officials said in August that they supported it because it made sense to allocate more money toward students whose needs exceed the norm.

Moving all the way to the RSD formula, however, will result in cuts too deep, Riedlinger said. The issue is not that special-needs students shouldn’t receive more money, she said — it’s that the total amount of money for schools is not being increased, allowing the state to force deep cuts on some schools under the guise of fairness.

“It’s a very strong emotional appeal to give more money to the neediest kids. I don’t think anybody on an emotional level can challenge that,” Riedlinger said. “But what is happening here is that it’s not more money. It is taking money from some kids to give to other kids.”

Meanwhile, only in New Orleans does the state allow such a drastic deviation from the weights normally assigned by the state, Riedlinger said.

“They have carved out New Orleans to treat New Orleans differently,” Riedlinger said. “A regular kid at Lusher will end up with a lot less funding than a regular kid anywhere else in the state.”

Reducing the amount of funding Lusher receives per student may also put the school at a disadvantage to other local schools when it comes to hiring new faculty, said Chief Financial Officer Lynden Swayze.

“The philosophical argument I hear over and over is that they want to be able pay more to teachers that work with challenging students,” Swayze said. “They want to pull our teachers, because they can make more money in a school where the children are more challenging to deal with.”

Lusher already has about 400 children deemed special-needs or at-risk students, more than the entire population of many schools in the city, Swayze noted. But because those children comprise a relatively low proportion of the school’s total 1,700 students, Lusher is ineligible to receive any federal money for special-education either.

“The argument is not about special education. It’s about having enough money to run your school,” Riedlinger said. “Nobody’s going to the community for more money, so it leaves us fighting among ourselves for limited resources.”

Riedlinger has been appointed to a task force seeking to negotiate the new formula, and she said she is hoping for some compromise by the time a report is due to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March. One possibility, she said, would be for the local school system to include consideration of federal special-education money in its calculations, theoretically softening the financial blow to Lusher since the school doesn’t receive any. Another possibility would be to retain some of the weighting in the formula for gifted students, likewise lessening the budget cut to Lusher.

“The latest thing I’ve asked is to look at how we can do a blending of this that is not as harmful, that is more reasonable,” Riedlinger said. “They say, ‘Whatever we come up with, we will phase in.’ But phase-in doesn’t help at all if you take three years to phase in what’s going to be devastating in the long run.”

8 thoughts on “Lusher could face $1.2 million budget cut under proposed reallocation of school funds

  1. Lusher has had the reputation denying admission to special needs students, as evidenced by the low numbers enrolled. (Mustn’t allow the test scores to drop!) The income level of the average Lusher family is much higher than in the city as a whole. I find it difficult to feel sorrow at the prospect of the administration’s having to tighten its belt a bit. After all, since Katrina both Little Lusher and Big Lusher have undertaken major improvements using both public and private (Brees and Goldring Foundations) money. They will do just fine.

    • I am always amazed at the bitterness I hear coming from people about Lusher. Especially when it is uninformed. A $1.2 million dollar budget cut is not “tightening it’s belt a bit”. Lusher has 400 special needs and at-risk kids – more than 25% of it’s entire student body. One of the repairs you seem resentful of is a very wide crack that went from the roofline to the floor in the wall on a 2nd story walkway connecting two buildings, a structural repair that was not covered with public funds. Your animosity would be better placed by directing it at legislators who have failed to properly fund our schools so that all children can receive a decent education, instead of criticizing a school with a very diverse student body (both racially and economically) that provides the best public education in the state, whose only crime seems to be it’s success.

  2. What could be more rational than pouring extra resources into children that can not or will not learn and depriving them from the able? Until we get equal outcomes in education there will be no justice and discriminatory funding is a good step in that direction.

    • Kids with ADD, Autism, Physical Disabilities, Blindness, hearing impediments, personality disorders, and more are served with these funds. Are you suggesting that these kids should be shoved to the side of the educational system? Goody for you that your kids are flawless. When you wonder why crime among the underprivileged is out of control, you should check your attitude as one of the first culprits.

      • I’m suggesting that discrimination against functional children is wrong and not a rational education strategy. It is these children that will be supporting the elderly and dysfunctional in the future. I wrote nothing about casting anyone aside.

      • The problem with they way the RSD wants to distribute funding is that it leaves out LOTS of students who need services but are not classified as Special Ed students. Expamples: ESL (English Language Learners), ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia (these students need accommodations and sometimes interventions by specialists in Reading, Math, etc) but they are not considered Special Education. Students who are in what is now called Response to Interviention – this is a tiered system to provide assistance to students before they get a Special Education diagnosis. These interventions all cost money and are not considered in the funding distribution considered by the RSD. This will affect every student in Orleans Parish Public Schools. I’m surprised the School Board and BESE are okay with leaving less funding on the table for all these populations. It should not be a surprise since RSD speaks with BESE’s rubber stamp approval on everything they do.

        At the same time, these RSD schools are considered their own LEA. What does that mean? It means they are already getting additional funds that OPSB schools do not receive. How? The RSD Schools and the OPSB schools receive Title 1, Title 3 and IDEA funds. The difference is OPSB takes a percentage off the time to manage the programs (I believe it might me somewhere around 5-10% but I could be wrong). The RSD schools, ALL of them, get to keep that funding, so they are already receiving more money per student than OPSB schools. Of course no one wants to talk about that. They want everything set up as it is currently run because they all know legislation is coming to force them back under OPSB, as it should be.

        The legislature always passes laws are the exception in New Orleans. The other parishes are okay with these things because they think it does not affect them. Remember the RSD was created as a tool for Orleans Parish, now they are creeping into other parishes. Look out because their funding formula will creep into other parishes next.

        People are not paying attention and the media is not covering this story because no one wants to be seen as taking away funds for Special Education.

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