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ReNEW hires former Jefferson superintendent in response to testing, special-ed violations

ReNEW Schools inked a contract Wednesday with a state-appointed monitor, a move required after last year’s special-education fraud and state-testing violations at one of its elementary schools.

The board’s academic committee met Tuesday to review the network’s progress on the entire corrective-action plan, of which the monitor is just a part. The Department of Education released the requirements on Jan. 29 along with an 80-page investigation that began after two ReNEW SciTech Academy school leaders resigned in May. The Lens reported possible special-education infractions in early June.

The state selected former Jefferson Parish superintendent James Meza to serve as the network’s monitor. He will earn $275 an hour, according to his contract, a cost ReNEW is responsible for. The corrective-action plan calls for the network to engage with Meza in January, but Weimer said the state granted the network an extension. The contract was back dated to Feb. 2.

Meza will review documents ReNEW submits to the state, meet with network staff and provide updates to the department. Meza will visit SciTech Academy next week for a walk-through.

The plan also requires ReNEW to hire a consultant with expertise in charter school administration. Director of Communications Scott Satchfield said the network hopes to have a contract with consultant Evan Rudall by Friday.

Among the charges in the report was the school’s use of special-education money to close a $300,000 budget gap but failing to provide services to students who needed them. The plan requires the network to identify all students who were denied services and to make up those services.

At the committee meeting, Executive Director of Special Education and Interventions Heidi Melancon said despite phone calls and certified letters, the network has been unable to contact a handful of former students who are owed services. The certified letters have yielded two responses, one student who wants services and one who did not want the make-up minutes. She said the network has been contracting with a retired teacher to make up the time.

In addition to SciTech, ReNEW operates McDonogh City Park Academy, Schaumburg Elementary, Dolores T. Aaron Academy and Cultural Arts Academy. The network also operates ReNEW Accelerated High School.

An agenda for the committee meeting was not posted on the school’s front doors prior to the meeting. State law requires meeting agendas be posted 24 hours in advance. A Lens reporter observed an agenda taped to the door after the 4:30 p.m. meeting adjourned, at about 5:15 p.m.

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