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Board member said he opposes Cohen-Washington merger

New Orleans College Preparatory Academies board member Jim Raby distributed a handout at the organization’s Aug. 6 meeting.  It was called “Stop Closing and Merging Urban Schools.”

In it, Raby lays out several reasons for opposing the Recovery School District’s proposed merging of Cohen College Prep and Booker T. Washington High School into a “mega high school facility” at the Booker T. Washington site, most notably a report of soil contamination at the proposed site of the future school.

“Booker T. Washington was built in 1942 on a landfill,” he said, passing out a site assessment report showing that the soil at Booker T. Washington is contaminated.  Testing found unacceptable levels of lead, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, zinc and mercury at the site.  Contamination went deeper than 8 feet in some places, which Raby said could make effective soil remediation very expensive.

Raby, a Cohen alumni, has been a vocal opponent of merging Cohen into a larger school.  He made it clear that he was speaking for himself and not College Prep as a whole, but that he would oppose the merger.

“I’ll be the bad guy,” he said to the board.

The board approved its yearly budget.  The organization expects to take in nearly $16.7 million in revenue this year.  Treasurer Andrew Goodwin reminded the board that this included start-up funds and cautioned them to remember where the budget would be after those funds went away.

The board also approved a new, less frequent meeting schedule, voting to alter its by-laws and reduce the yearly meeting requirement.  CEO Ben Kleban told the board they could still call additional meetings on an as-needed basis.  The board will now meet Nov. 5, Feb. 4, and June 3.

The board also discussed potential changes in its committees.  Evaluating CEO Ben Kleban’s performance will now be handled by the governance committee, chaired by Murray Pitts.  Kleban and several members discussed the need for a committee tasked with political and community advocacy.

Goodwin asked whether the word advocacy would be inappropriate, given the organization’s non-profit status.  Kleban responded that the restrictions only limits them from spending money on political lobbying, and that this committee was about having someone to be a public face and speak for the organization and its interests.

Crocker Principal Amanda Aiken introduced herself to the board.  She described her primary focus as transitioning the school to a growth mindset, and invited the board to the school’s weekly Friday celebrations at 3 p.m.

Grisela Jackson, a board member recently invited on from Crocker’s original board, asked about the state of the arts at Crocker, formerly known as Crocker Arts and Technology School and which is now being run by NOCP.

Aiken said students get one hour of enrichment every day, either physical education or music. Jackson asked whether this was due to the school’s need to focus on state testing subjects.  Kleban answered that it was, and given the school’s academic position it academically could not justify more than an hour of enrichment per day.

Also present at the meeting were Peter Harding, Monica Edwards, Murray Pitts, Jim Raby, Stephen Boyard, Griselda Jackson, Shaun Rafferty, director of operations Kristen Lozada and director of development Geneva Longlois-Marney.

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