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School dumps for-profit manager, citing fees, broken promises; reapplication rule draws ire

The board of Intercultural Charter School met Oct. 20, at 6:00 p.m. before an audience of 36, including a reporter from The Lens. Members present were: Alvaro Alcazar, Kathleen Carlin, Vong Nguyen, Cam-Thanh Tran, Francis Cascio, Jerome Jordan, Amy Scalia, Ed Blouin, Tap Bui and Claudia Duque.

Tran, the board’s chair, said the school’s decision to  terminate its relationship with Edison Learning, the schools for-profit management partner, will require a charter amendment and approval by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The school will engage counsel to guide it through the amendment process and in the next two weeks will create an amendment committee. Those wishing to serve on the committee should contact the board, Tran said.

Taking the floor, Principal Dayphne Burnett asked the board’s help with the fall festival fundraiser and candy sale. Proceeds will be used for student activities. She said the school’s Parent Teacher Organization will provide a “space walk” and money for prizes and games.

Burnett asked the board for $500 as seed money for the festival and student activities. Tran said the board did not have money for such a donation but that members should advise Burnett if interested in making personal donations.

The board asked Burnett to explain a staff petition to have the day off on Oct. 31. The staff feels overwhelmed by the break with Edison Learning, Burnett said. The board voted unanimously to approve the day off.

The board was advised that students were taking assessment tests and that the principal would include results in her monthly reports to the board.

A representative from Edison Learning said that to complete termination of the school’s relationship, Edison has requested a copy of the budget for fiscal 2012, and a letter of termination from the board.

The representative reminded the board that Edison initially offered the school a debt-forgiveness plan which now may be rescinded. She said the company is troubled by the breakdown in its relationship with the school. She said Edison had a vision for New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and partnered to create a better school system and community.

Board member Kathleen Carlin replied that quality education has been received due to quality teachers. Edison Learning promised the school wonderful things that never happened, she said: “It’s like having a friend for two years and they keep on waiting but nothing ever happens.” Carlin said the school’s financial situation results from Edison Learning’s high management fee. The fee has made it impossible to comply with fiscal policies expected of charter schools in exchange for state funding through the Minimum Foundation Program.

In other business, Nathan Thomas, a maintenance staffer, asked about emails that ask all school employees to reapply for their positions. Thomas called the reapplication process a breach of the school’s contract with employees.

Tran explained that the board is restructuring the school’s work force and that reapplying is a way to determine exact job descriptions. She said reapplying was mandatory for employees who want to stay with the school. She said she would speak privately with Thomas, who remained adamant in opposition to the reapplication process.

In closing, a parent in the audience said she was worried that financial problems would force the school to close. Tran said the school has sufficient funds and that the board was doing everything possible to ensure the school’s continued operation. Terminating the contract will result in improved academic performance, she added.

The board then entered executive session without offering a reason why, and the public part of the meeting was adjourned.

Correction: This story originally misidentified Cam-Thanh Tran.

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