Audubon Charter school may no longer be able to sustain all of its pre-kindergarten classes, members of the school’s board of directors said in a meeting Saturday morning.

Calling it a “tragedy,” Board Chairman Cornelius Tilton said the state doesn’t provide enough money for the city’s preschool programs — despite overwhelming evidence that students who attend those programs are more likely to do better in subsequent school years than those who don’t.

“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 at the meeting Saturday.

“Children who begin in pre-K are far more likely to be successful,” he continued. “Even people outside the education system have seen the differences.”

Regular pre-kindergarten classes don’t get per-pupil state funding that the school receives for enrollment in other grades.

In 2010, Audubon Charter started charging tuition for pre-kindergarten education, although low-income families were still allowed to attend for free. Documents show that the maximum rate that the school received from pre-kindergarten fees last year — $4,570 per student — wasn’t enough to cover the costs.

On Saturday, school officials showed The Lens the breakdown of how tuition money and grant money compared to the total costs of running these programs in the 2012-13 school year.

Audubon Charter has nine pre-k classes.  Last year, the classes operated on a deficit of $348,805. With the 107 students, that put the program in the red for $3,260 a student.

The program received $183,147 in revenues from parent-paid tuition fees. The average fee paid was about $2,509 per student, and some parents paid much less than that.

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch are covered by the state’s La 4 program, which provides early education to four-year-olds from disadvantaged families. Audubon got $78,712 in grant funding from the La 4 program last year.

Audubon also got $65,344 from per-pupil funding for pre-kindergarten students following Individualized Education Programs, which are mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

All in all, the revenue stream from pre-kindergarten came to $327,203.

But the direct costs of the prekindergarten program, including salaries and benefits, totaled $355,757. Add on top of that the allocation of fixed support services — indirect costs such as utilities, insurance and other normal school fees — and the total bill came to $676,008 for those prekindergarten students.

At the meeting, Tilton said the board has a responsibility to make sure that the pre-K program doesn’t overly tax the financial health of the rest of the school.

Finances aren’t the only hardships the school faces next year in regards to Audubon’s  prekindergarten classes. Tilton pointed out that the school had a “facilities issue as well.”

Right now, the school holds all nine of its pre-kindergarten classes on the ground floor of its temporary building, because schools are required to hold those and first grade classes on the first floor.

The school is in a swing location because Audubon Charter School’s Broadway Campus is scheduled for renovation as a part of the master plan approved by the Orleans Parish School Board and the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education in 2008.

When the school returns to the Broadway campus, however, there will only be eight classes at the school’s disposal on the ground floor — meaning that the school will be short one early education classroom.

“It brings the rubber to the road, if you will,” Tilton said.

School leaders made it clear that the purpose of the accountability meeting, held ahead of the regularly scheduled board of directors meeting, was to “open discussion” about the future of the pre-kindergarten program. The board did not hold any vote or make any kind of immediate decision about which classes, if any, to cut.

Board members also recognized that the school has devoted a lot of effort to making sure that the pre-kindergarten program was successful and accessible to parents.

“Our commitment to the pre-K program has been noted not just in word but in deed,” Tilton said.

The board discussed a few theoretical solutions to the problems of space and money. In terms of space, the school could combine two classes.

In terms of money, the school could reserve more spaces for gifted kids, who are funded by the state. Audubon’s Operations Manager, Alisa Dupre, pointed out that the school had to be wary of other funding possibilities, such as raising tuition.

During the meeting, school officials announced other news — that the middle school had recently been accredited by the French Ministry of Education through the eighth grade. The school had already been accredited for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

According to Audubon’s website, accredited schools teach the official French curriculum, rather than teaching Louisiana curriculum in French, as French-immersion schools do.

“It’s a huge deal,” Audubon’s Operations Manager Alisa Dupre told The Lens after the meeting.

Dupre also said that accreditation would factor into any decision the board made about cutting preschool classes.

Tilton agreed.

“We’ve worked long and hard to get that and we don’t want to do something that’s going to jeopardize that at this point in time,” Tilton said. “ All of that factors in.”

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...