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First school taken by RSD set to return to local school board oversight

The first school seized by the Louisiana Recovery School District is poised to return to local control.  Taken over in 2004, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School’s board voted to shift general oversight of the school back to the Orleans Parish School Board.

The board likewise decided to move Lake Area New Tech Early College High School.

The moves are contingent on OPSB matching the Recovery School District’s property-insurance rates, a difference of about $90,000, New Beginnings School Board members said at their meeting Thursday. New Beginnings operates four schools; Medard Nelson and Gentilly Terrace elementaries were not eligible to shift and will remain under the RSD.

Technically, the board voted to change the schools’ charter authorizer, the entity ultimately responsible for a school. The New Beginnings board will continue to set policy, pass a balanced budget and hold their CEO accountable for student achievement and school success.

The move has little effect on day-to-day operations at the schools. But the move has larger political meaning. The final oversight of the two schools now rests with locally elected officials, not the state school board, which runs the RSD.

Some local education advocates have bristled at the control coming from Baton Rouge and have been encouraging charter-management organizations to consider the switch.

The RSD was established as a temporary district to take over and turn around failing schools. A 2010 state policy change nixed the automatic return process and put the decision in the hands of charter boards. This year, 33 of the RSD’s 52 charter schools in New Orleans are eligible to return. Last year, 36 were eligible — only one transferred back, Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School.

To be eligible to leave the RSD, schools must earn a 54 on the state’s 150-point evaluation in consecutive years. This year, Capdau earned a C at 71.9, falling from a B the year before. Lake Area moved up to a C from a D.

Much of New Beginnings’ discussion focused on bargaining, and whether the board should include the property insurance condition in its motion. Some board members felt more strongly about the symbolic return, and cared less about the $90,000.

“That’s not a deal breaker for me. The importance is going back,” member Sheila Danzey said.

But others, including member Jay Ginsberg, felt differently.

“We need to maintain the strongest bargaining position that we can,” he said.

New Beginnings almost voted to return Lake Area to the Orleans Parish School Board in 2014. That year, Friends of King became the first network to return a school to OPSB.

The New Beginnings board met with Orleans Parish superintendent Henderson Lewis a handful of times this year. He was present at the board’s last meeting, when they decided to delay the vote for one month to speak with Doris Hicks. Hicks leads Friends of King, which also run Joseph A. Craig Charter, which remains under the RSD.

Board member Travis Chase met with Hicks in recent weeks, to discuss the dual-authorizer arrangement and return, and he was satisfied with what he learned.

“RSD was never meant to be a permanent authorizer, right? I agree with Sheila that this is inevitable,” Chase said.

But he wanted to compromise, and to include the condition of matching insurance, suggesting it showed OPSB their priority and demonstrated fiscal responsibility.

Ginsberg said he was not swayed by the experiences of King because he saw their move as a reaction to the RSD offering the charter a reduced contract after enrollment issues.

“There’s a lot of negative stuff that preceded their return back,” Ginsberg said.

He also said he was uncomfortable with returning half the schools to OPSB. “I think there are all kinds of unforeseen consequences that can arise from that.”

Board president Leslie Bouie also opted to transfer the two schools back.

“They have earned the right to return,” she said.

The board voted 6-0 in favor of return. Ginsberg abstained.

Orleans Parish central office staffer Colleston Morgan Jr. attended the meeting. He said the district would do its best to meet the conditions. He also noted the state may have stronger bargaining power when it came to insuring buildings because it owns more property.

No one from the Recovery School District was present. After the vote, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard released a statement via email.

“I congratulate these schools on all of their hard work and progress,” the email reads. “Over the coming months, I am looking forward to working collaboratively with the leadership at New Beginnings and OPSB to help facilitate a smooth transition process for all students, family and staff.”

The vote is the first in a multi-step process that requires state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approval and negotiating a new operating contract with OPSB.

The board’s decision comes just weeks after CEO Sametta Brown announced her resignation, effective June 30.

If everything is approved, her replacement will oversee the transition to OPSB which would take effect July 1.

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