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Despite lack of quorum, board meets in executive session

FirstLine Schools’ Board of Directors didn’t have a quorum Wednesday. So instead of voting on anything, they carefully decided to simply receive information.

For an hour and 11 minutes, they listened to reports on student test scores, enrollment and diversity.

Then, though they didn’t have a quorum present to vote to go into executive session, the members asked everyone to leave while they met privately for a half-hour, saying only that they were going to talk about “personnel issues.”

The board’s meeting agenda stated that the board planned to go into executive session to discuss “CEO performance review.”

Board president Lawrence Kullman said during the meeting that the board was legally allowed  have what he termed an “executive session,” regardless of the lack of quorum, because no vote was to be taken.

“I do want to go into executive session here now, but let me explain to the public why we’re doing that,” Kullman said. “The law permits us to go into executive session to discuss things like lawsuits or personnel matters. We’re going to discuss two personnel issues, naming names about the people, so that’s the reason to do it.”

Questioned about the board’s move Thursday morning, FirstLine spokeswoman Rebekah Cain said it was an unintentional error.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Cain said, “not trying to be malicious, we may just have made a mistake.”

On Wednesday night, Cain told a Lens reporter that because the board never had a quorum, board members would probably just end the meeting after they were done meeting privately rather than regrouping and formally adjourning.

The Lens reporter waited until the board was through convening behind closed doors to confirm that the board didn’t discuss anything besides the planned “personnel issues.”

With only six of 13 board members present, the group decided prior to the private meeting to narrow its agenda and instead hold what they termed an “informational meeting” featuring a short presentation highlighting the progress of Arthur Ashe Charter School.

The board skipped several items including a CEO update and reports from facilities, advocacy and governance committees.

During a Power Point presentation on Arthur Ashe, co-directors Sivi Domango and Sabrina Pence highlighted the school’s student achievement, boasting that Ashe outperformed other open-admissions schools in the Recovery School District when it came to eighth grade math.

Pence said that the eighth-grade students had the highest passing rate in the city on the LEAP math test among open-admissions schools last year.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education records, however, the school still earned a “D” on its 2011- 2012 state report card, with a performance score that grew less than a point to 82.

During the meeting, faculty and board members said that the school’s performance score was misrepresented due to a data reporting error by the RSD. According to FirstLine chief executive officer Jay Altman, the district discounted 13 student scores due to a coding error, ultimately resulting in a loss in points.

Altman said that according to the board’s calculations, the school’s score should be an 89 –- a number that would better reflect the school’s recent growth in the student assessment index.

“We’re appealing the whole process,” he said.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, confirmed Thursday that state officials are in receipt of FirstLine’s appeal.

The presentation also outlined the school’s goals for the 2013-14 school year, which include an achievement of 95 or higher on the student assessment index and daily attendance averages of 95 percent or higher.

Domango and Pence say they hope to achieve these goals in part by improving teacher retention and science and social studies curriculum.

Additionally, Domango and Pence said they are hoping for an enrollment of 532 students for next year. Currently, 486 students attend Arthur Ashe, but the board has planned to add three sections of students in the kindergarten, 5th and 7th grade classes.

The co-directors also said they hope to prepare their students academically enough for all them to attend college preparatory high schools.

At the meeting, several board members expressed their concerns about the students’ continued growth.

Altman, for example, said he wants to implement a tracking system for the students, to document where they attend and how they perform in the future, as well as to provide counseling services for alum.

Kullman said he has concerns about the school’s lack of diversity.

Currently, the school is 97 percent African-American, 1.6 percent white, .8 percent Hispanic and .2 percent Native American, according to statistics given during the presentation.

“What do you think the experience is for the non-African-American child at this school?” asked Kullman, who is white.

Domango responded that she hopes to increase diversity next year by improving school test scores and safety.

At least one parent was enthusiastically supportive of the school, however.

“If I thought my child would get a better education at a Catholic school, that’s where he would be,” said parent Melissa Quintal, 44, who works in logistics.

“I’m raising a young black man in a society where he will always be judged by the color of his skin before the content of his character,” Quintal said. “I believe this school has everything he needs.”

The board had expected enough members to be present for the meeting, but one person had a family emergency and couldn’t attend at the last minute, Cain said. Board members Lawrence Kullman, Paul Pechon, Monique Cola, Brian Egana, Stephen Rosenthal and Christian Rhodes were all in attendance.

Board members unable to attend included Alison Hartman, Kim Henry, Darleene Peters, Gregory St. Etienne, Catherine Pierson and George Freeman.

The charter organization must have more than half of all members present in order to officially hold quorum.

A board retreat is scheduled for this Friday, Jan. 25 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 26 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The next board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 27.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that Arthur Ashe Charter School officials described the school as having “outperformed any other school in the Recovery School District.” It then went on to explain that the school’s eighth graders did well on LEAP test in eighth-grade math compared with other schools in the city and region. This story has been edited to better reflect the school’s position that Ashe outperformed other schools on this measure exclusively.

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