The Lens announced the kickoff of its newest initiative, the Charter School Reporting Corps, at its latest salon on Thursday.
Charter school stakeholders crowded the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities building to hear our plans for covering board meetings of the 45 school boards that govern the 65 public charter schools in New Orleans. Along with WWOZ radio, The Lens also announced the launch of Insight New Orleans, the only Gulf South outfit of the Public Insight Network, a national organization that connects journalists with community sources.
Those in attendance enjoyed hot sausage sandwiches and beverages as Lens managing editor Steve Beatty and Lens co-founders Ariella Cohen and Karen Gadbois gave the audience a history of The Lens, and as Beatty explained the reasoning fueling the charter school reporting corps’ creation.
“Before Katrina, there was one school board governing all the schools, and only one meeting for the public to attend to find out how its taxes are being spent,” Beatty told the packed room. “Now, there are 45 different meetings a month. That comes out to about 500 meetings a year.”
Beatty explained that The Lens will now be posting articles summarizing the charter school board meetings. The Lens will also provide readers with copies of each school’s charter agreement and application, performance score, list of board members, board meeting minutes, and the school’s annual financial audit.
Stakeholders expressed general enthusiasm for the initiative. Others expressed concerns that when looking at non-compliance with state laws, The Lens would not take into account the fact that many boards are brand new, and don’t yet understand their role.
Education reporter Jessica Williams took the microphone to quell these concerns.
“We will be taking those things into consideration,” she said. “Before we wrote the story on charter school boards not following open meetings laws and public records laws, we gave them about three months to respond to our requests. The law says we should have given them three days. We’re mindful of that.”
The Lens will activate the live link to its new charter school reportage the week after Labor Day.