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Lycée Français to end pre-kindergarten class for three-year-olds

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans will not offer a pre-kindergarten class for 3-year-olds next year, its board of directors decided Monday night.

The decision came three weeks after a contentious meeting at which the board eliminated the program and then voted it back in after parents complained.

On Monday, though, the board unanimously approved CEO Keith Bartlett’s recommendation to nix the costly program that some say creates an unfair entry point into the school for students who can afford it.

“The cost to operate a single Lycée  classroom each year is $147,663,” Bartlett said to a room of about 20 parents.

That leaves each classroom operating at a loss of $56,063 a year, he said.

The French-curriculum charter school would have to charge parents about $7,400 a year for the program to break even next year, a move he said would price some parents out of the program.  That would be a 62 percent increase over this year’s tuition of $4,580.

Before Bartlett announced his recommendation, he offered several advantages of the program. It aligns with the French National Curriculum offered by the school, is convenient for families and gives children early exposure to French, he said.

However, all those benefits could not be overcome by the fact that the program operates at a loss and creates an entry point for families who can afford the tuition, Bartlett and board members agreed.

Board chair Tim Gray said it was time for the school to turn its attention to expanding its middle school, while board member Ben Castoriano argued that eliminating the class would move Lycée closer to offering a standardized entry to the French language-focused charter school.

The school has been charged with increasing its population of economically disadvantaged students. Right now that population is less than half of where it should be, at about 31 percent, Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the Council for Development of French in Louisiana, which currently supplies teachers to Lycée, would not be providing the school with pre-kindergarten teachers in the future. He also said the absence of the class would not impact the school’s work to gain accreditation from the French government.

Several parents spoke during public comment, many in hopes of keeping the program.

“I get that pre-K is not part of our U.S. system,” said parent Darren Beltz. “However many things aren’t included in our outdated system here in the U.S.”

Beltz seemed to address a board member comment pointing out the difficulty in aligning the French curriculum within an American public school system.

“There’s lots of extra costs that come in teaching the French system and we seem to overcome those costs,” he argued, pointing out that parents purchase specialized workbooks and other items.

Some parents suggested a sliding-scale tuition and seemingly offered to pay up to $10,000 for their own child to attend the pre-K3 class, arguing they would pay that much elsewhere anyway. They said that money, more than the $7,400 tuition needed to break even, could help supplement another child’s tuition. The board did not address those suggestions.

The pre-K4 class — for four-year-olds — also garnered some attention recently, when Lycée requested a waiver to allow paying students a guaranteed spot in the public school’s kindergarten.

“Our board did submit to the state the request for a waiver so all of our children could move in and that request was denied,” said Bartlett.

However, based on the number of kindergarten seats, Bartlett said he does not envision a scenario in which all current pre-kindergarteners at the school could not have a seat in kindergarten there next year.

The board also approved a public comment policy that will limit speakers to three minutes per action item. Meetings had previously operated with a loose comment policy, sometimes there were speaker cards, sometimes not. Under the new policy the public will have to submit a card before the public comment period for any action item opens if they wish to comment.

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