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Walker and Landry merger opponents air frustrations before BESE members

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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  • nickelndime

    “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.” On what planet are these two BESE members living on, because it is not planet Earth. What I cannot believe, however, is that two of these BESE members would admit to such ignorance in public!

  • These two members do not represent the New Orleans districts and yet they showed up to find out what was going on. John White makes a very good attempt to keep information and plans BESE until the twelfth hour. Dobard and Gang flat out lie, so how would these two ladies know what was really going on? Where was James Garvey whose district is in close proximity? When is the last time you attended a BESE meeting in New Orleans? Until you do, you wouldn’t understand the level of dysfunction.

  • nickelndime

    I understand the level of dysfunction and the outright lies! BESE sends individuals who can truthfully say that they do not know what is going on – these 2 don’t and that is what is so appealing. This buys time for BESE and the LDOE and the RSD, and it is oh so believeable, because the public buys into their honest ignorance and “thinks,” well maybe they don’t know, so maybe we can tell them , and maybe they will understand, and maybe they will do something. By that time, it is all over – you have seen it done time and time again – fini – vote taken – done deal. (Pastorek did it, White, although not as experienced as Pastorek – and certainly not as knowledgeable enables the gross public deception. Monetary cost to the public: Billions! Academic losses and failures: Priceless! I know you go to BESE meetings, Lee. I know you travel to Baton Rouge (“Rogue”) and appear before committees, and it is wonderful. When you comment, you comment thoughtfully, thoroughly, experientially, and from the heart. Please continue to share your giftedness. It compliments the reporting.

  • I understand what you are saying but I don’t think BESE “sent” Beebe and Hill. They showed up as a result of pleas from parents and teachers who know that none of the other BESE members care. I don’t know how they find the time and energy to respond to the public virtually statewide but they do. Remember a few months ago at an RSD BESE meeting when Beebe and Hill moved to have a thorough review by the Legis Auditor or AG or other outside authority? The other BESE members in attendance voted “No.” Says it all.

  • nickelndime

    If Beebe and Hill went to the meeting as a result of actual concern, then I can appreciate that (but that would not apply to Kira Orange Jones, because she is on another agenda). So, no one from the RSD was in attendance (!) and these BESE members were not officially sent by BESE. Well, that is just raw! And Beebe and Hill can forget about BESE voluntarily asking for a review of anything. This will not happen.

  • Gus

    Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill are pretty much the only BESE members, who are fighting for public education. I’m sure they attended the meeting, because they truly do care about the school. Beebe and Hill oppose Jindal pretty much every step of the way, and get outvoted on every matter. Beebe knows a great deal about teaching and running a school, which is something that can’t be said for just about anyone else on BESE. BESE is a joke. I thank Beebe and Hill for speaking out for those of us who would like our schools to remain public. BESE has zero interest in what parents, students, and teachers think about education.