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College Prep Academies’ growth plan angles for takeover of two more schools by 2018

A new growth plan endorsed unanimously by New Orleans College Preparatory Academies calls for taking over another two schools by  2018.

Under the schedule approved at Monday’s board meeting, NOCPA would add one school ahead of the 2015-16 school year and another the year after. The idea is to widen the application pipeline, Ben Kleban, leader of the charter management group, told the board, adding that on March 7, he submitted an application on behalf of the organization to take over additional schools as they become available.

Kleban said a looming deadline for the application meant there was not time to consult the board. He noted, however, that adding two schools was in NOCPA’s prior growth plan. He stressed that any decision about taking over additional schools would be made by the board.

“So, it appears there’s no downside to this,” chair Peter Harding said.

“No,” Kleban replied.

Charter school takeovers are a competitive process. Among other factors, NOCPA’s chances of adding to its portfolio will hinge on the availability of failing schools eligible for turnaround and how many other charter organizations apply to run them.

Member Barbara McPhee dismissed the suggestion that Kleban should not have submitted the application without informing the board. Requiring prior notice from Kleban would overstep the board’s authority, she said.

The board also moved to seek alteration of its charter for Cohen High School. Under terms of the revised charter, Cohen students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will move to Crocker Elementary — the sixth-graders for the coming year, the seventh and eighth graders in the two subsequent years. Meanwhile, fifth graders  from both Sylvanie Williams Elementary and Crocker will be able to enter Crocker’s new sixth grade.

Kleban explained that, when Encore Academy relocates from the Crocker campus to a new facility, a number of classrooms will open up to house the influx. New Orleans College Prep initially moved its middle school from Sylvanie Williams, on Martin Luther King Boulevard, to its current location within Cohen High School on Dryades Street.

He explained the reason for the move: a lack of new sixth-grade students, due to an abundance of  K-eight schools in the area. Initially, NOCPA was getting 80 to 100 sixth-grade applicants, but the number has fallen considerably in recent years, he said.

Crocker’s charter called for K-eighth grade and therefore does not need to be amended. Cohen’s charter would be changed to accommodate the move, Kleban said.

In other business, Treasurer Andrew Goodwin advised the board that NOCPA received a clean audit for the 2012-13 school year, with no negative “findings.” An accountant with experience in fraud examination, Goodwin said the board would be instituting internal audits to prevent the problems recently discovered at some other New Orleans charters. He said small-scale fraud of this kind is more prevalent at smaller organizations, due to a lack of oversight and the fact that one person often performs several  functions.

Member Monica Edwards will be resigning from the board, Peter Harding said in his governance update. He advised board members to be on the lookout for new candidates for board membership, particularly people with facilities experience or political clout. Board members discussed whether it was legal for someone holding political office to sit on a non-profit board.

Asked during the public comment period what input the board would seek before deciding whether to take on additional schools, McPhee said they’d need to know a school was available before engaging that school’s community in a public meeting.

Member Grisela Jackson recalled that NOCPA had held many public meetings with the parents of Crocker, hired much of the staff, and welcomed a number of Crocker’s board members onto NOCPA’s board.

“It was important that our kids come back to this facility,” she said, adding that NOCPA embraced and extended Crocker’s mission.

Present at the meeting in addition to Kleban, Jackson, Harding and McPhee were Julia Walker, Murray Pitts, Jim Raby, Stephen Boyard, Shaun Rafferty, and new chief operations officer Natalie Kaharick. The meeting began at 5:03 p.m. and ended at 6:27 p.m.

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