By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

Only two of seven charter applications were tentatively approved by the Orleans Parish School Board Tuesday night, despite vigorous support by some board members and audience members.

Encore Academy and Citizens’ Committee for Education will revise their financial and organizational plans, hoping to win full approval to open new schools as early as next academic year. The other five applicants were turned down for the 2012-2013 school year, but asked to revise their applications for the board to consider for the next year.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the organization that screened the applicants, is the same group that makes recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Recovery School District. The group already has endured accusations of favoring larger operators with national network backing over community groups – and its December recommendations to Superintendent Darryl Kilbert to deny all seven local applicants did nothing to quell such concerns.

At last month’s board meeting, the board deferred its decision until January to give charter applicants the chance to revise applications and resubmit to the screeners and Kilbert. The recommendations Kilbert presented Tuesday night included the two conditional approvals.

The board’s careful wording in its approvals and denials –invitations for rejected schools to revise applications, and only conditional approvals right now  – marks its attempt be open to local charter applicants.

Still, that specific wording wasn’t enough for three board members, and several charter applicants who complained about the board’s decisions. Board member Brett Bonin stressed the importance of community charter schools to the board and the audience, and he said that all charter groups that applied should get conditional acceptance.

“These are community groups that are coming forward and seeking to help children in the city, I think it’s a very positive thing,” Bonin said.

He voted against each denial.

Two other members, Cynthia Cade and Ira Thomas, wanted the chance to further review the charter application for the Amachi Charter School Association of Louisiana, saying that the screeners didn’t closely look at their application before recommending its denial. Marcia Peterson, the Amachi group’s board administrator, agreed.

“It seems like there was already an opinion formed when we submitted our application,” she told board members.

But the National Association of Charter School Authorizers stood by its recommendation, with Vice President William Haft saying that the reviews were thorough.

In the end, the superintendent’s revised recommendations won out across the board, as Amachi was denied this year’s charter as well. Thomas and Cade joined Bonin in voting against the Amachi denial, making it a 4-3 vote. They voted with the majority in all other denials.

The solicitation for charter requests was the first by the Orleans Parish School Board since shortly after Katrina.

Tuesday’s board meeting also featured the election of the new board president, Thomas Robichaux, and vice-president, Lourdes Moran – but not without controversy, as reports. Moran served as president this year.

Further, the Uptown Messenger reports that the board voted Tuesday to sharply reduce the amount of money to renovate Lusher Charter School’s two campuses.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...