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Challenged! The Reality of Recovery School District Funding - Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The Reality of Recovery School District Funding

By Don Whittinghill, LSBA Consultant


At the dinner meeting of the newly formed consortium dubbed One Voice for Public Education,  an Elephant loosed in the room was that the Department of Education invited a lawsuit not only on the adequacy of funding public schools but also on equity.

My statement that at least $15,000 per student was being spent in the RSD, while the state average spending amounted to but $8,500 was challenged by Paul Pastorek who maintained the RSD was much closer to the state average.

The Tulane University Cowen Institute has issued a report on a study of funding in New Orleans public schools.  Its conclusions included: “…Substantial variation in revenue and expenditures per pupil exists across public schools in New Orleans. Current expenditures in 2006-07 ranged from $3,600 to $18,300 per pupil across the schools for which the LDE makes school-level data available.   Even allowing for disparities related to hurricane recovery and the opening of new schools, this wide range of expenditures raises serious questions about equity.”


This week’s USA Today report says the RSD spending per pupil last year amounted to $15,500.


The Cowen report also took notice of the fact that “…the OPSB continues to face costs from when it was the sole operator of schools in New Orleans. However, the rules that dictate how funds are shared by school operators prevent the sharing of these costs in some cases.

“Two recommendations relate to the rules that govern funding of schools:

Legacy costs, or costs incurred when all public schools in New Orleans were part of the same district, should be distributed on a per pupil basis across all public schools – Today, the OPSB incurs costs for health care for retirees and workers’ compensation claims from when all schools were part of the same system. Also, the OPSB must pay legal costs related to law suits that were filed against the larger system. Because these costs were incurred by all public schools in New Orleans, all schools should contribute to their repayment.

            Costs related to debt service from bonds issued by OPSB when it operated all public

schools in New Orleans should be distributed across all public schools – A decade ago, the OPSB issued general obligation bonds to raise funds for capital needs of schools in New Orleans. The revenue from these bonds was used for public schools throughout the parish, and all schools should contribute toward their repayment.” (Source: Public Education in New Orleans:  A Financial Analysis Published by Tulane University Cowen Institute-2009)


To those advocates of education reform who believe the RSD is a positive there is a cautionary word in the foregoing report.  But that isn’t the end of Pastorek’s less than forthcoming attitude about RSD finance.


He dislikes talking about the fact that he has the DOE budget absorbing $12.5 million in payments to the State Office of Risk Management for insurance coverage of the RSD.  This office, within the Office of the Governor, reserved $25 million for potential legal obligations related to the RSD in the 2008-09 FY, but sustained claims totaling $60 million.  Prior to Katrina the OPSB rarely sustained claims exceeding $10 million.


Superintendent Pastorek and supporters, such as Leslie Jacobs, gleefully report on the improving performance of the RSD in New Orleans.  Media dutifully applaud their pronouncements.  This week USA Today published an article about the performance of RSD schools in New Orleans.  Contained in that piece is another fact:  The improving district performance score chart they show from Tulane's Cowen Institute goes back to 2001 and shows that in four years preceding Katrina, the district improved 10.5 points, while during a similar time period under the RSD after Katrina it improved 9.5 points.

Did Superintendent Pastorek mean to withhold public acknowledgement that his expensively-supported RSD’s improvement was not equal to pre-Katrina improvement with a much larger and more poverty-stricken student body?

Does he really mean to obscure the fact that in deriving School Performance Scores for the RSD the DOE does not count scores of those children who have not been enrolled for two consecutive years and attained 120 days of attendance?

Spectators, among them members of the media, who don’t take the trouble to evaluate the real stances of Superintendent Pastorek as opposed to his rhetoric, might be forgiven except for the fact that the rhetoric damages a lot of good work done by school board members, teachers and students all over the State.