By Claire Byun
Audubon Charter is considering expanding to a third location, but school officials stressed Saturday morning that the expansion is “only an idea” at this point.
The school’s board of directors held their regular meeting Saturday morning at the Milan Street campus and approved a motion to “consider the idea of expansion.”
“We have a model that works, so expanding it is not a risk because we already have two schools that are working,” said board member Erica Murray.
The charter currently has two locations: a “lower school” on Broadway Street; and an “upper school” on Milan Street. Murray said a location on the Westbank or Gentilly would serve students well, since many travel from those parts of town every school day.
Scott Saltzman, parent, said the board’s first priority should be improving the experience and facilities of the current campuses before starting up another school.
Saltzman said his daughter’s science classroom doesn’t have access to water, which limits the amount of experiments and projects. Neither schools have an inside gym, so rain or bad weather sentences students in confined indoor spaces during physical education classes.
“And these are little kids, they need to express that energy somehow,” Saltzman said.
Murray said the board is only discussing the idea of expansion, since any move will take years of planning before it can become concrete. The board has to decide whether to pursue a future expansion now, since the Orleans Parish School Board is scheduled to issue a renewed charter contract to the Audubon Charter in March.
The charter has until June to look over the contract and suggest any changes, and possibly propose a third campus to OPSB. Latoye Brown, principal and CEO, said OPSB needs to know if the school is interested in expansion now, because the expansion application process is similar to starting an entire school from scratch.
“It’d be like we’re building a new school from the ground up,” Brown said. “It’s a long-term conversation.”
Mandy Lilly, president of Audubon’s Parent Teacher Organization, said her group of dedicated parents are up for the expansion – they just need to be involved in the conversation. She added the PTO is “ready to mobilize” with anything the board needs for an expansion.
The board also discussed abolishing term limits after a consulting firm recommended removing the two consecutive-term limits in place. Most of the board members agreed with getting rid of term ceilings, but member Greg Thompson said the limits prevent anyone from serving past their prime.
Derek Bardell, board chairman, said the term limits “are there for a reason” and allowing members to stay on for as long as they want could promote complacency. He said two consecutive three-year limits give the board fresh blood and new ideas. On the other hand, keeping the same members around provides continuity in the face of a major project, such as reaccreditation.
“Even with term limits, I think there will be enough continuity there to accomplish what we need to accomplish,” Bardell said.
Erica Murray, board member, said abolishing term limits wouldn’t allow complacency because there would be other measures in place to motivate the board. She also it would be financially irresponsible to ignore the advice of a consulting firm hired to look into the school’s administrative operations.
The board deferred the vote to their next meeting, opting instead for the governance committee to meet with the consulting firm to understand the term limits proposal before bringing it back to the board for a full vote.
Claire Byun is a freelance reporter based in New Orleans.