At Least It Was A Lingering Death

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)

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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.

3. Finance

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

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Show 2 footnotes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

16 Replies to “At Least It Was A Lingering Death”

  1. What I don’t get is where all the students for a high school would come from? Don’t we graduate less than 75 kids a year from 8th grade? That’s not enough to populate a h.s.

    1. There was talk about buying the old Bryant building from the KCMOSD to use as a third campus to get the numbers up enough to feed the high school. I don’t know how that would work with yet another building for a new high school though. did anyone else have a hard time finding the strategic plan at the link provided?

  2. I am an AL parent and in full support of the idea of a high school. I also am an IB program grad and know the immeasurable benefits of that program. I am very excited about the possibility of getting an IB high school. AL is such a great school and hope my child will be able to continue her amazing education through her high school years.

    If Oak Street isn’t expanded, why can’t the new high school building accommodate 7th and 8th graders as well? There is absolutely no guarantee that the attrition rate will stay where it is.

    As for the capital campaign, my husband and I immediately signed up and having been giving since day one. I’d be willing to give a little more to make the dream of an AL high school a reality. It beats having to pay private high school tuition.

  3. I am fully in support of an IB high school. As an AL parent, I would LOVE to see my child continue to advance her education in the AL environment past the 8th grade. I am also an IB graduate and can tell you that the benefits of that program are amazing. I was MUCH better prepared for college because of the IB program. I also earned almost a year’s worth of college credit before I stepped foot on campus. Instead of taking basic classes, I was able to start in on classes that actually challenged me.

    I want the same for my daughter. Any parent who understands the program would want that for their intelligent child.

    If a new high school is obtained, why can’t it house the 7th and 8th graders as well? Who can predict if the attrition rate will continue at it’s current pace? If it does, there will be plenty of current 4th graders (the biggest class in the school, I think) to populate a high school, especially with the promise of a continuing AL/IB education. Space has always been an issue for AL, but there has to be a way to allow for more students to attend.

    My husband and I immediately pledged to the Give to Grow campaign because we believe in Academie Lafayette and I would be more than willing to stretch just a bit more to make an IB high school a reality. It’s better than paying private school tuition and with the added benefits of foreign language and IB instruction, it would be the best public (and I would argue better than private) education in Kansas City.

    I hope the finances can come together and make this work. I also hope all of the cooks stirring the stew can calm down and work together before the whole pot is spoiled.

    1. “I also hope all of the cooks stirring the stew can calm down and work together before the whole pot is spoiled.”

      wtf? what – no one should talk about this? why? is thew board’s plan so fragile that it will fall apart if people chat it up? or do you just think no one should ever question anything?

      1. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I think there does need to be discussion and A LOT of it before anything moves forward. It just seems to me that many groups of people are talking about this, but not to each other. It seems like everyone has a different plan and it’s the only plan. There are AL facebook groups, the board, the Give to Grow Committee and the school itself all telling different stories, or slightly altered versions of the same one. I get more information talking to parents in the hall during after school pick up than I do from the board or the school.

        It’s getting way too confusing for parents to make educated decisions about what is best for the school. The whole Bryant school situation left me completely bewildered. That came out of the blue. Information is being presented from many different directions and it’s confusing. Every single parent I talk to is confused. Too many cooks stirring up rumors/information is not helping to create a real plan for the future. People are very passionate about this (not necessarily a bad thing) and aren’t working together.

        I fully support an IB high school. I don’t see any reason why that can’t happen. Teachers can be trained and like all education, the program is what you make of it. My IB teachers were some of the best I’ve ever had. I’d like for the excellent AL education to continue into my children’s high school years. I don’t care how this happens, I just want it to come to life.

  4. I attended an IB school. While I liked it and thought it helped me prepare for college over what my friends experienced in other high schools, it IS a brand. And it’s certainly not an end-all in and of itself – students still have to work, parents still have to support (or prod where necessary), and teachers still have to teach. And the teachers & staff must be well versed in IB for that to be effective – a brand new high school without that background will produce indifferent results at best.

    What this really seems to come down (IMO) to is money and the shifting priorities of the board; they blow hot, then cold, then hot again. All the while authoritatively giving out misleading information. When even that is done. Looking through the board minutes it’s clear there’s much NOT discussed about the board’s long range plans (or those talks aren’t, for whatever reason, captured in the notes.)

    As for money, well, if i’m reading the posts right, there looks to be a serious disagreement among the board members as to what is affordable and what’s not. Perhaps the board could slow down their plans to better accomodate fiscal realities?

    1. I would rather AL get accredited before they do anything else. And improve the math and English MAP scores in the lower grades. Or is that just me?

    2. the board hasnt come out and said it but they act like Dr Green will just give AL a building. I suppose that could either be good or bad – it certainly wouldnt be free though. there isnt a building in the kansas city district that doesn’t need at least a million dollars worth of repairs so that’s probably what the board prez meant when he said that extending Oak would kill the high school. but im with those who want to see much more detailed plans on a high school and even then im not sure thats right for AL. hell is it even in our charter? and if it isn’t then who runs it? is THIS board trying to run a high school? cause they dont have the chops for it. or is part of the price of a free building that AL would have to partner with kansas city schools? cause no one wants that even in Dr Green does get the district partial accreditation. or who els would AL partner with? the more i think about this the more harebrained it seems – there are NO details on this but AL is making large money decisions based on a future only the board knows about much less believes in.

  5. I’m confused. I remember an outcome from an earlier board meeting was that AL was going to add the IB program to their current program, not add a high school. When did a high school get added?

    1. No, but we did receive 3 different e-mails with that quote in it. It was notable because at a recent 2-night presentation by the board of each option (A, B and C) it was brought up several times that these options were to be considered apart from any consideration of a high school.

      Which – given how things appear to have played out – smacks of the ol’ “bait and switch” at worst, or incredibly muddled communication by the board at best.

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