Audubon Charter CEO addresses the school’s financial straits

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Audubon Charter School’s Broadway campus, photographed in 2015, houses Audubon’s lower grades.  (Robert Morris, Uptown Messenger file photo)

The following letter was emailed Jan. 23 to Audubon Charter School parents and others associated with highly rated public school with two established Uptown campuses and a new Gentilly campus. The email from Audubon CEO Latoye A. Brown addresses the charter school’s financial situation.

Formerly Audubon Montessori School / L’Ecole Franco-Américaine, Audubon offers French and Montessori programs for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Dear Audubon Community,

Many of our families have reached out for clarification regarding how our current financial position will impact our academic programming. Over the past few years, Audubon has experienced reduced revenues and rising expenses that have had a dramatic impact on our organizational budget. This past school year, we experienced a budget shortfall of $1.8 million dollars. Based on current projections, we are expecting a budget shortfall between $800,000 and $1,100,000 dollars. While alarming, we have been working on a solution to stem the projected shortfall while also planning how to eliminate such issues moving forward.

One of the questions that many of you have asked is “how did we get here?” The answer includes several different drivers primarily centered around frozen MFP (see editor’s note) funding levels for our Uptown school and drastic increases in personnel to support expanded intervention and special education services across all campuses. As a result, we are investigating a reduction in workforce to bring our expenses in line with our current revenues, since most of our shortfall was due to salaries and benefits of staff across all campuses and the central office. This is not a task that we are undertaking lightly. We realize that cutting our workforce will mean changes in how we operate, but our pledge is to ensure this does not decrease our services for children, including the areas of Gifted and Talented programming.

Another question that is frequently asked is, “Did opening Audubon Gentilly and the costs of its renovation cause us to experience a budget shortfall?” The answer to this is “no.” Our Uptown school would have experienced a budget shortfall whether or not the Gentilly school was opened and renovated. Our overage came primarily from spending related to salaries and benefits across all three campuses and the central office, an indication that our staffing structure has to change.

The most pressing question that is perhaps on everyone’s mind at this time is simply, “What does this mean for my child and their educational experience?” While the cost-cutting measures that we are considering will result in a loss of staff, it will not result in a loss of services for students. We expect that some positions lost to attrition will not be filled, or will be filled by the reassignment of staff from other parts of the organization. We also expect there will be some cuts from our central office staff and, where absolutely necessary, of support staff across all campus. Please know that no one wants to lose staff members at Audubon – we look for efficiencies wherever we can find them. We are doing our very best to minimize the impact of this strategy on our overall ability to work with our students.

It is important that we maintain the elements which made Audubon your choice, even in the face of financial challenges. This may mean, however, that programming in some areas is slightly altered or that some of the faces your children see may change over time. We want to reassure every family that while this budget shortfall is a serious issue that we are working to correct, Audubon is still a stable school committed to offering unique high-quality programming.

Latoye A. Brown

Editor’s note: The “MFP” Brown refers to is the Minimum Foundation Program, a formula used to determine the amount allotted to public school districts in Louisiana. From the 2014-15 to the 2018-19 school years, the state’s base-cost-per-pupil amount remained frozen at $3,961, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. In the 2019 regular session, the Louisiana Legislature approved a 2019-20 MFP formula that allows a 1.375% increase, bringing the base-per-pupil amount to $4,015.

Uptown Messenger file photo

The former McDonogh 7 building on Milan Street, photographed in 2013, is home to Audubon Charter’s upper school. (UptowncMessenger file photo)

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