Walker and Landry merger opponents air frustrations before BESE members

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Three of Louisiana’s top education officials got an earful Wednesday night from Algiers community members resistant to the planned merger of two rival high schools.

Tarence Davis, one of more than 100 who attended a town hall meeting at Behrman Gym & Stadium, stood before three representatives from Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and pleaded with them not to stand by and let the school where he graduated and now works become a memory.

“The only reason we don’t support this merger is because both of these schools have earned the right to exist,” said Davis, a graduate and administrator at O. Perry Walker High School.

Walker and L.B. Landry High School are on track to merge this fall at Landry’s new $59 million facility in accordance with a 2011 plan crafted by the Recovery School District.

Though he did not attend the meeting Wednesday, Recovery School District superintendent Patrick Dobard told The Lens in December that the combination of the two schools at Landry’s state-of-the-art campus essentially dissolves Landry, an F-rated school with dwindling enrollment and a 74-year-old history, while keeping Walker’s preferable academic standing as a B school intact.

Davis said that Walker should instead be renovated and kept where it is.

BESE members Kira Orange Jones, Lottie Beebe, and Carolyn Hill listened. Two of them offered feedback that indicated they were just becoming familiar with the depth of the anti-merger outcry.

“I’ve been told it’s a very small group that has concerns [about the merger] and I can see from this room tonight that that’s simply not true,” said Orange Jones, New Orleans’ representative on BESE.

“Everything is projected to be lovely here, it’s held up as a model,” Beebe said. “I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken. We can go back to Baton Rouge, we can share your concerns, and hopefully, collectively, we can find an answer.”

Hill, of Baton Rouge, and Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, both promised to take what they heard back to the full 11-member board.

The meeting was arranged by merger opponents Skip LaMothe, president of Friends of Landry and Raynard Casimier, a Walker graduate and Algiers pastor.

Orleans Parish School Board members Leslie Ellison and Nolan Marshall, whose districts both include portions of Algiers, also attended the meeting. Algiers Charter Schools Association member D’Juan Hernandez was present but did not participate in the meeting. Hernandez’ charter school board manages O. Perry Walker.

“I think this meeting was for the community to have a voice,” Hernandez said. “We should only be concerned with whether the children of this community have a safe and orderly school to attend in the fall.”

No representatives from the RSD attended, although organizers said they had been invited.

Three empty chairs at the front of the room held meaning for those who did attend.

“Seeing the RSD not being here, that should speak volumes,” said parent Daphne Cross. “They’re not accountable to parents or children.”

The Lens writer Jessica Williams contributed to this report.

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