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Board authorizes pre-kindergarten program, frets over budget crunch

Hopes to reinstate a pre-kindergarten program and lingering concerns over a potential spring budget crunch topped discussion at the monthly meeting of the Benjamin Mays Preparatory Academy board of directors, Nov. 29.

Principal Shanda Gentry said only four of the school’s 44 kindergartners had previously attended school. Gentry is an advocate of early education, especially as her kindergartners are spending time learning the alphabet and recognizing their own names, something they would learn in pre-k.

Gentry and Director of Finance Brent Washington presented the board with a hypothetical budget for a pre-k class. To make the numbers work, the school would take on a pre-k class of 17 and assume that eight of the children required special-education services. Special-ed students bring in additional funding which would help offset costs, even after adding a paraprofessional to accommodate their needs, said Gentry, an advocate of inclusive classrooms.Each pre-k student brings in $4,500 from LA-4, the state’s pre-k program). In addition to LA-4 money, students with special needs bring $10,000-$16,000 each in weighted Minimum Foundation Program funds and $2,746 each through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Estimated pre-k funding would total $210,468, with $46,580 for the teacher and $25,800 for the paraprofessional. Additional expenses, such as enrichment classes, would be minimal as those educators are paid hourly.

The board approved a motion granting Gentry authority to enter into a contract with the Recovery School District for the Diverse Delivery pre-k program.

Washington’s finance update revealed that the school has not been billed by RSD since July. The anticipated amount due will be about $260,000, to cover shared services such as food, utilities, landscaping and speech therapists. The school is waiting for some Title I money that has been held up by paperwork, an amount Washington estimated at about $150,000.

Lingering from the last board meeting are concerns over expendable cash in the spring, before federal and state money comes through. The school is having trouble securing a loan to cover the gap as they have few physical assets. Washington is in the process of calculating their anticipated financial need.

Gentry’s school report provided test results from the schools second STEP cycle, a week
long testing period that measures reading and comprehension. First graders had the highest percentage of students test on-level at 55 percent, while only 14 percent of fourth graders tested on-level. Other classes tested below-level. The third STEP cycle runs Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, and results will be available in two to three weeks.

In development, committee chair John Williams announced the school had received 20 tickets for each Hornets home game from an anonymous benefactor. He said the next step will be coordinating transportation to the games and seeking donations such
as van rentals or buses.

The school also received a $2,000 donation from Hammond Transportation to buy coats and shoes for needy students. The development committee is also hoping to help cover the possible cash shortage in the spring through fundraising.

The board will begin using The High Bar software, a resource for charter school boards. Board member Jenny Hunter agreed to take the lead on implementing the program.

Board members present in addition to Hunter and Williams were Sidney Barthelemy, Todd James and Damon Burns. Members Kristen Ponthier, Raashand Hamilton and Jasmine Haralson were absent. A reporter from the Lens was the only member of the public present.

The meeting began at 5:30 p.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m.

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