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Enrollment surge brightens finances; Hurricane Isaac make-up days slated

“We are at the magic number,” principal Mardele Early told directors of Lake Forest Elementary Charter School at their monthly meeting, Sept. 19. She referred to the current enrollment of 501 students and went on to discuss upcoming changes in curriculum.

Early said the school lost some students but that the vast majority were from families who moved away from New Orleans.

“This is why I’m a supporter of Common Core Standards,” Early said, referring to the new education standards being implemented nationwide. “Children should be able to pop out of one city and move to another city,” she said. “We are growing global students.”

She said that the new standards will help students develop deeper critical and higher-order thinking skills.  “It’s making the kids do more collaboration, talking to each other.”  She stressed the importance of students learning to digest information, not just receive it.

The state plan for implementing the federal Common Core standards involves phasing out some state curricula currently required in Louisiana’s Grade Level Expectations. Nonetheless, Early said, she and her faculty have decided to continue teaching the material as a supplement to the federal curriculum, because it builds a foundation that proves valuable in higher grades.

The school year began Aug. 7, and students have already  received their first progress reports, Early said.  The school plans to make up for time lost to Hurricane Isaac by adding four instructional days later in the year, including Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.

The board discussed recent and pending state legislation that affects education. Early said she opposes “the law that does not allow retirees to come back and work.”  The law would limit a retired teacher’s earning to 25 percent of his or her pension. Any additional income would be subtracted, a strong disincentive for retired teachers to work or assist in the schools.

“As an educator… it’s a pleasure to work with our retirees, because they want to be here.  They don’t have to here,” Early said.

Another law recently passed says teachers who work in charter schools don’t have to be certified, board member Donald Pate said, but “all of our teachers are,” he noted.

Board members remarked that many of the changes were being proposed by people with no educational experience.  “Government entities do not work like private entities,” Early said, adding that she worries that some changes will hurt children.

Bernell St. Cyr, the school’s director of finance and operations, provided the board with a facilities update.  He said that there were roof leaks in four of five campus buildings.  “We had flooding, particularly in the gymnasium,” he said.

“Have the repairs been made?” member Gina Dupart asked.

“That’s a touchy subject,” St. Cyr responded.  He said the work performed by the Recovery School District was not done to his satisfaction and that leaks persisted, some of them worsened by Isaac. He said the school has filed a letter of complaint to the district.

During his financial update, St. Cyr said that the student count of 501, up from 490, means that the school is now receiving more per-student funding than they budgeted for.

“We’re looking at somewhere around $200,000 in additional revenue, based on our student count,” he said.

But he cautioned that the school should be wary of spending the windfall because the amount of money that schools receive per student under the so-called Minimum Foundation Program has not been set conclusively.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) initially required charters to pass budgets by July 31, months before schools are sure of their enrollments. More recently, the deadline appears to have been moved back to Sept. 31. A change in the MFP formula would throw an additional level of uncertainty into school financing, St. Cyr said.

In addition to Dupart and Pate, board members Windi Brown, Denise Williams and Brian Richburg attended the meeting.  Board president Lee Caston, and member Leila Eames were absent.

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