Last night Académie Lafayette’s board of directors pulled the plug on an Oak Street campus expansion plan that had been on life support since autumn of 2012. The proximate cause of death was the A.L. board’s recent desire to open an International Baccalaureate high school.
“If (the board) goes with Option A (Oak Street campus expansion), we will not be able to open a high school. There simply wouldn’t be enough money,” A.L. Board president Dave Cozad said. 1
With the board’s leading proponent of the Oak Street expansion out of town, the remaining A.L. board members quickly moved to kill the Oak Street plan and adopt “Option B”, a limited expansion of the school’s Cherry Street campus.
The board is expected to sign loan papers to finance “Option B” by November 1st of this year.
Académie Lafayette has never opened, operated or been involved at any level with running a high school; only A.L.’s Head of School, M. Elimane Mbengue, has any experience with the International Baccalaureate program. 2
It is also unclear when and how Académie Lafayette would finance the purchase of another building for their proposed high school. Current speculation centers around a possible arrangement with the KCPS repurposing project.
Dr. Stephen Green, Superintendent of the KCPS, is a past Académie Lafayette board member.
There will be no services for the Oak Street expansion.
(Directly below parent-representative board member Joe Langle’s statement made in support of Option A at the board’s July 8th meeting)
1. Space and Attrition Rates
Since the founding of our school the student attrition rate has steadily declined over the years as the school has performed well and established a longer track record. A few years ago we started seeing an attrition rate approaching 4 and 5%. So we based the facility expansion on a 4% attrition rate. At the time, we were unsure if the rate was low due to the school’s performance or just that the bad economy was keeping people from moving. If we were to see an upswing due to an improving economy, we would start to see it now. Between last school year and the one coming up, we will only lose 10 students compared to 28 the previous year. We lost an additional 12 students during the school year, but backfilled them with 11 students that started late into the year. So depending on if you include the new students into the attrition rate calculation, you had an attrition rate of somewhere between 1.5% and 3%. In addition, when we set student enrollment caps last month, we turned away 17 French speaking applicants in the first through fourth grade due to space concerns. My point is this; our attrition rate is going very low. We may not maintain a 2% attrition rate, but we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what if the rate goes back up.
If the attrition rate stays low, we need to make sure we have a facility that can handle it. The Oak expansion provides enough space in its 8 new classrooms and 2 administration spaces sized for classrooms to allow for flexibility as the attrition rate fluctuates. Building onto Cherry does not add that flexibility.
Further, the attrition rate affects the higher grades more. So adding that flexibility onto the campus with the higher grades is better long term planning.
2. Maturity of the Competing Plan
The Oak Campus expansion has gone through an extensive process beginning in 2011. The committee spent a full year gathering input from all stakeholders to produce a comprehensive analysis of the school’s long term needs. These needs were presented and approved as the Program Requirements document in March of 2012. Those requirements were used by BNIM to develop the design. The construction documents are complete and we have received bids from three general contractors. In contrast, the Cherry Campus expansion is not based on an approved facility analysis. It is influenced by the wants of individuals and not the long term needs of the school. It is focused on short term needs and lacks a long term vision. It is incomplete and still in flux. It is not something you can base a public capital campaign on.
It is important to recognize that it is not €œcheaper € to build onto Cherry. It costs less because we are providing less. We are providing less, because we aren’t fully accounting for the future needs of the school program.
The financial analysis was put together as a worst case scenario. We are providing all the requested program changes, using the lowest expected increase in state funding, and using an attrition rate that is much higher than we are currently seeing. There has been no attempt at any cost savings measures. We will have $11 million dollars in total revenue at full capacity with a $337,000 deficit. So a financial analysis 5 years into the future, based on many assumptions, shows a 3% deficit.
Let’s look at that number closer. If we had 40 more kids in the school, that deficit goes away. That equates to roughly one percentage point change in attrition rate, or 3.5%. As stated before, our current attrition rate is somewhere between 1.5 and 3%. So using these numbers, we would actually have a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars.
Even more important, is the assumption that the state funding will only increase at a rate of 2%, yet we are including in the model an increase of 2.5% for salaries. Salaries account for about 70% of our budget. No budget, facility expansion or not, can accommodate an expense increase greater than revenue increase when it accounts for 70% of your budget.
These financial models are overly conservative. They are forcing us to make bad decisions based on bad data.
4. Capital Campaign
The Capital Campaign is not failing. It is stalled due to the Board’s indecision.
The campaign was sent into a spin in early December last year when a few board members placed a non-binding offer to purchase the Bryant school building. This created confusion among the board members on the path forward.
Then in January, I was told by an officer of this board that he felt building an expansion onto Oak was a misuse of money and that he would push to see that we didn’t build the expansion. This caused significant controversy that began to reach our parents and other stakeholders. The campaign had to slow down and focus on small asks for the Cherry campus.
Around March, I have been told that an officer of this board removed himself from the Capital Campaign because it conflicted with his efforts to start a high school. At this point, the campaign all but shut down.
I say these things to let everyone understand that we have a stalled Capital Campaign because of the actions of this board. We have made it nearly impossible to carry out a successful campaign. We have not even formally approached the parents of the incoming Kindergarten or first grade classes. The Capital Campaign committee has indefinitely suspended their weekly meetings. We have not made any big asks to the philanthropic community due to our indecision. We can’t ask for money when we don’t even know what we plan to do with the money.
Before this all occurred, our campaign was very successful. We raised nearly a million dollars in pledges from our parent community. That is something to be proud of. With a clear path forward, the campaign can be successful again. We just need to stop changing our minds.
4. My Proposed Approach
If we take a more realistic approach to the financial analysis If we give the capital campaign clear direction on our path forward and more time, we can make the expansion at Oak a reality. Our program needs the facilities provided by the Oak expansion. And we have the time to let the capital campaign work for another year. We can stall breaking ground for one more year without too much heartache.
If after another year of fund raising, we are not going to meet our goal, then we can look at other options. Looking at other options today is only defeating our progress.
We should use the program requirements, Elimane’s vision, and the completed expansion plans as new fuel to reinvigorate the Capital Campaign. With a clear path forward and deadlines, the community will step up
- There were other reasons offered; seven more, in fact – money among them. For fuller description of the spot the A.L. board worked itself into see here. ↩
- The notion of Académie Lafayette’s plans for a high school is at best vaguely documented; there are recent references to it in some of the later board meeting notes but nothing concrete even in the school’s Strategic Plan. Though, to be fair, perhaps that’s because there isn’t an existent Strategic Plan anywhere on the school’s website. ↩