The board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies held an unusual three-and-a-half hour closed session Saturday, emerging to
announce that it was going to apply take action regarding its recent application to the state to run another charter school – a measure that wasn’t on the board’s agenda.
Correction: School officials said Monday that the action was a technical change, not the initial interest in pursing a charter, which they submitted last month. The board did not provide a copy of the matter it was voting on at the meeting Saturday.
The state open-meetings law allows private meetings for a handful of specific purposes. When asked later in open session by The Lens whether the topics discussed behind closed doors met those legal requirements, board members said little.
“We don’t have to answer that,” Chairman Kenneth Polite said. The other members remained silent.
Members later admitted to planning the new charter school in closed session, which would seem to fall well outside the legal exemptions that allow for barring the public from the meeting.
Remarkably, the former Chairman Hal Brown said that the board had repeatedly held meetings and retreats in the past that were closed to the public, at which school planning was discussed in depth.
Initially, members claimed that the executive session was necessary to discuss Executive Director Ben Kleban’s professional competence. The law allows for such private review of performance. Closed-door meetings concerning Kleban’s competence have been held several times this year.
Before closing the meeting, Polite also cited an exemption that he claimed would have allowed private discussion for “strategic planning.” But he later admitted this was not related to a specific litigation or collecting bargaining agreement, a narrow exemption in the law.
Materials discussed in the closed session appeared to fall outside the legal exemptions. PowerPoint presentations were shown to the board diagramming topics such as school attendance, grade performance, and options for expanding to take over another charter school. The presentations were clearly visible through the wall of windows separating waiting areas from the closed session.
When members re-opened the meeting to the public, the board voted to authorize the Polite to sign the necessary paperwork for
apply to run a new charter school. That matter was not on the agenda.
State open-meetings law allows board to add items to the agenda, but it requires a board to explain why items are being added; the board did not do so Saturday.
Board members also voted to approve a 5 percent bonus for Kleban. Again, this item was not on the board’s agenda, and members did not explain why it had to be added.
Board member Jim Raby and secretary Murray Pitts left the meeting after those votes were taken. Vice Chairwoman Monica Edwards and Ruth Kullman had left previously during executive session. Polite, Brown and Treasurer Peter Harding were the only members remaining for public comment.
Additionally, the board voted to add new member Julie Walker. Walker is an expert in non-profit fund-raising, and was introduced to the board at last month’s meeting.
The meeting began at 9 a.m. and concluded just after 12:30 p.m.