Schools
 

Speakers at public hearing favor charters' return to elected board

Money and control are key concerns of Algiers Charter School Association officials facing the decision to switch three of the organization’s schools to Orleans Parish School Board governance, board members said Tuesday night.

The charter operator has a Jan. 7 deadline to decide whether to allow high-performing schools Dwight Eisenhower Academy, Martin Behrman Charter School, and O. Perry Walker Senior High School to switch from the Recovery School District’s general oversight to that of the School Board. The board of the Algiers group heard public comments on the issue Tuesday night at Behrman.

While both Behrman and Walker’s faculty and members of the surrounding community have expressed overwhelming support of a switch for all three schools, board members are largely concerned that the change means the schools will lose their legal independent status, and the money that comes with that title.

Their concerns are well grounded, and they are shared by other charter school leaders.  All charters authorized by the Recovery School District are considered local educational agencies – essentially their own districts. Federal grants, namely grants designated for students in poverty and for special education students, flow directly to them. But charters authorized by local school boards don’t have the same designation. The School Board, as the educational agency, is entitled to nearly 9 percent of those dollars for administrative costs. If Behrman, Walker and Eisenhower were to switch, the district would collect that percentage from them as well.

“No one on this board has expressed that they’re against any of the schools, whether it be Walker, Behrman or Eisenhower, returning to OPSB,” board Chairman Collin Brooks said. But at the same time, because the board is charged with making the decision, not the staff at the schools, board members have “a responsibility” to understand all of the challenges surrounding a return, including the independent status issue.

Parents, teachers and community members at the public hearing, however, weren’t pleased with the explanation. Each speaker favored the schools switching to the School Board.

“It’s almost a hostage situation, where we want to return, but it seems that we are not being allowed to return,” Behrman’s assistant principal Brian Young said. Young said the school took a parent poll, in which nearly 90 percent, or 525 of 586 families, voted to switch to the School Board. That’s in addition to the faculty already being in support of the switch.

And to some audience members, like Eric Jones, chairman of the Lord Beaconsfield Landry Charter Association, a would-be operator that applied for L.B. Landry’s charter last year, the independent status issue is a minor one.

“We shouldn’t be scared or afraid to go back because we may lose a surplus, we may lose dollars,” he said. “You shouldn’t be holding these schools back.”

By law, the decision to switch rests with the charter school board, not the faculty or parents at the school. Critics have said that this leaves out true parent input, since the board’s ultimate decision may override the school community’s desire. Such was the case last year, when Behrman and Eisenhower first were eligible to return, and the Algiers Charter School Association board chose not to sign off on the switch – despite a petition of 500 signatures from Behrman parents, staff and school community members in favor of a switch.

The board’s decision to switch isn’t the only major decision it will make in the coming weeks. The association released plans for a proposed merger of O. Perry Walker and L.B. Landry Senior High Schools at a meeting Saturday. It will take public comment on that issue at a forum tomorrow night at 6, also at Behrman.

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