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Construction ramps up at Lake Forest Elementary’s new campus, board is advised

Pile driving has been completed for Lake Forest Elementary Charter School’s new  gymnasium, theatre, and cafeteria, and has begun for the building that will house the school’s pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade. Entergy will set up temporary power for campus in the next two weeks.

That was the gist of an update delivered Wednesday by member Donald Pate to the school’s board of directors.

In other business, principal Mardele Early showed the board a breakdown of some proposed legislation to fund school upkeep. The legislation, still under discussion, sets aside a portion of the state’s per-student allocation and applies it to maintenance costs. The portion of  per student funding currently used to pay off bonded debt would gradually be reallocated to upkeep as the bonds are retired.

Bernell St. Cyr, director of finance and operations, updated the board on several new expenditures. A steamer in the cafeteria kitchen recently malfunctioned. The school found a replacement for $2700 on eBay with a two-year warranty, and also had to pay $3000 to repair damages caused by the malfunction, including repair of the kitchen alarm system. The school also purchased a new copy machine for $5,500 to replace what St. Cyr called “Fifi LaRue,” the staff’s nickname for the old copier.

Before the meeting officially convened, the board recognized community member Wilfred Norris. He said he had recently tried to enroll his granddaughter at Lake Forest and other schools in the area and wanted to express several concerns.

Norris commended the school’s academic performance but criticized its application process. He said that the January application deadline hurts residents returning to New Orleans. The requirement that kindergarten applicants produce artwork, sample homework, and a self-portrait favored students attending paid preschools where such work would be produced.

“A public school should serve the immediate community first,” Norris said.

Board member Leila Eames responded that her own granddaughter missed Lake Forest’s application deadlines and was not even on a waiting list.

She and other members pointed out that Norris had approached other school boards with the same complaint, and that he admitted to being a product of an older system where students could simply show up to their neighborhood school on the first day of class.

If Norris was looking for a community school, there’s one closer to his house than Lake Forest, Eames said.

“You have to have time-lines, policy and procedure,” she added. “It’s a business.”

Early said that Norris was incorrect in saying that the sample work and other materials were required. They merely contribute points to an overall matrix that determines which students will be eligible for the lottery to attend the selective-enrollment school, she said. The school’s website lists those materials as optional, she said.

In fact the website states that applicants “are required to submit the completed application along with all requested documentation,” and further states that “incomplete applications are not processed.”

Norris posed a question: “You mean to tell me a charter school can’t enroll a student in nine months?” Early responded that she and her staff were working that far ahead to prepare for the upcoming year. Applicants need to learn the  importance of deadlines, she said.

In addition to board members already mentioned, Lee Caston, Windi Brown, and Brian Richburg were present.

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