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Audubon restructures pre-K and Montessori programs; pricey tech costs foreseen

Audubon Charter School will have one less French pre-kindergarten class and one less Montessori lower elementary school class next year, administrators told the board of directors at their meeting Saturday morning.

The lower school will have to reduce the French program by one pre-kindergarten class to accommodate a growing French third grade, according to a report circulated at the meeting.

The French program will have two pre-kindergarten three and pre-kindergarten four combination classes, operations manager Alisa Dupre said.

“We have discussed the best options so that we still have three and four year olds,” Dupre added.

School officials discussed the prospect of pre-kindergarten downsizing back in September, noting that pre-kindergarten classes hurt the school’s finances.

Board chairman Cornelius Tilton said during the September board meeting that the state doesn’t provide enough money for the school to sustain its pre-kindergarten programs, because regular pre-kindergarten classes don’t get the per-pupil state funding allocated for other grades.

This flies in the face of studies showing that students do better if they’ve had pre-kindergarten schooling, he said.

“The tragedy that we have in our current system is we have not, at our state level, determined the value to put enough dollars behind our pre-K program for our children,” Tilton said.

Reducing the Montessori lower elementary program by one classroom will mean that the majority of the incoming Montessori students will enter Audubon in kindergarten, rather than first, second or third grades.

An operations update handed out during the board meeting called the change a matter of  “right-sizing” the Montessori program.

“We were taking in a lot of new kids who had difficulty transitioning,” Dupre said about older children coming into the school’s Montessori program.

A report on the school’s admissions lottery said 898 timely applications were received, and that the school is still in the process of determining the number of vacancies for the 2014-15 school year.

On another topic, Tilton objected to a $230,000 cost of upgrading computers and programs to participate in state-mandated testing.

Called PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the tests will replace the English and math portions of the state’s Leap and iLeap exams, officials said. The online testing isn’t compatible with the school’s current network, which was purchased pre-Katrina, according to technology manager Deon Weber.

Board member Shawn Barney asked what would happen if the school couldn’t afford the expense.

“It’s a question that’s asked throughout the U.S.,” Weber answered, adding that the school has to pay for it because it doesn’t have enough free-and-reduced lunch students to qualify for a subsidy.

The cost would be spread out over two years, and the school should start budgeting for that expense, accountant Ben Hicks said.

Board members called the technology update an “unfunded mandate.”

“This highlights once again the difficulties that we’re facing in public education. We’re just a mouse speaking amongst a bunch of lions who have very little interest in funding the education system that they require you to have,” Tilton said.

The state keeps ordering changes but doesn’t provide for implementing them.

“Money that could go to instructing children could be diverted along the way, and that’s just unconscionable,” Tilton said.

Dupre updated board members on the status of the Broadway campus. The school’s return has been pushed back to 2015 due to construction issues, she said.

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