Thanks to an improved school performance score, Morris Jeff Community School is now eligible to transfer back to the Orleans Parish School Board for the 2014-15 school year, the school’s board of directors announced at its meeting Thursday night.

By state law, schools transferred to the Recovery School District must remain under its jurisdiction for at least four years. After that, to be eligible to transfer back to the OPSB, a type 5 charter school must have a minimum 2012 performance score of 80 or above, and a 2013 score of 54 or above. The 2012 performance score is based on a 200-point scale while the 2013 score is based on a 150-point scale.

Morris Jeff, a school that closed after Hurricane Katrina and reopened as a type 5 charter under the Recovery School District in the 2010-11 school year, scored 84.6 in 2012 and 84.3 (the equivalent of 101.3 in the old system) in 2013.

During the meeting, board members discussed the pros and cons of transferring out of the Recovery School District, and some of the options that the OPSB had made available to them. No vote was taken on the subject; instead, the board voted to hold a special board meeting Dec. 11 to discuss those options with community members and then make a decision.

Traditionally, Morris Jeff’s board does not hold meetings in December, but members need to give an answer to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by Jan. 2, board secretary Jennifer Weishaupt said.

“We want to give an opportunity for questions and answers,” Weishaupt said, adding that she would like board members to research the subject and come back to the next board meeting with informed opinions. “We can have all the positives and negatives as viewed by all the different stakeholders.”

Weishaupt led Thursday’s discussion on the subject. Board President Wanda Anderson-Guillaume was absent from the meeting, and Vice President Aesha Rasheed recused herself from the discussion because her organization gets funding from both the RSD and OPSB. Board member Kamala Baker also recused herself because she works for the RSD.

There are three transfer options for Morris Jeff for the 2014-15 school year. The school can remain a type 5 charter with a contract between a non-profit charter organization and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with the RSD giving oversight.

Or, if the board chooses to transfer to the OPSB as a type 3B charter, the school can either retain its Local Education Agency status or operate as a type 3B with the agency status given over to the OPSB.

A type 3B school acting as its own Local Education Agency works much like a Type 5 charter, in that it can independently apply for and receive state and federal grants and retain any current grants. It would be responsible for special education funding and programming.

A type 3B school that does not remain its own Local Education Agency would get federal funds through the OPSB. Also, the district would take responsibility for evaluation and other special education services. The district receives special education funding and spends it based on needs among all of its schools.

Although board members will officially discuss and decide whether or not to move in December, they expressed some reservations about the idea Thursday.

“What is there to attract us to move?” Weishaupt asked. “The status quo feels pretty good.”

Weishaupt added that financially it makes more sense for the city to have one well-functioning district, but she added that she’s not sure the OPSB is quite healthy enough yet for the school to have incentive to move.

“We need the OPSB to be a district that we’re all proud of,” she said.

Weishaupt also said that once the school decides to move back into the district, there’s no going back. However, if the school decides to stay in the RSD, it would still have the option of transferring to the OPSB the following year.

Other board members asked for a recommendation from Principal Patricia Perkins, to be presented at the next board meeting. However, Perkins shared some of her initial thoughts Thursday.

“If the board had to vote today, my concern is that we don’t need a distraction from where we’re headed right now,” Perkins said, adding that Morris Jeff is in the midst of an expansion plan adding new grades.

“We know how things are operating now and we’re not complaining about them.”

She acknowledged that the RSD doesn’t “want to be in the business of running schools forever,” but she also expressed reservations about the OPSB’s readiness to take on new schools. Also, there has never been a type 3B charter before, she added.

“There’s a reason no one’s returned yet,” she said, adding that the OPSB doesn’t right now have a permanent superintendent.

If the school waits another year to decide, she said, “maybe someone else will have done it and been the guinea pig.”

Another consideration is what happens to the school’s facility, board members said Thursday.

When the charter school transfers back to the local school board, the school’s facility transfers with it, according to a packet given out during Thursday’s meeting.

OPSB will allow type 3B charter schools to remain in their current facilities or will provide the charter with a similar facility, according to the guidelines. It also said that if a school is awaiting RSD completion of a building project and that school transfers to OPSB, the facility would be transferred along with the school once the project is completed.

Morris Jeff is slated to relocate to a permanent building at the former Fisk Howard Elementary School at 211 S. Lopez St. The construction is expected to be finished in 2015, according to a recent press release. In the meantime, the school is temporarily run out of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church on 3368 Esplanade Ave.

After some discussion, the board voted to hold a community engagement session to discuss  the OPSB transfer at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, followed by a regular board meeting at 7 p.m.

Sarah Bell, vice president of the Family Partnership Steering Team, which oversees Morris Jeff’s parent organization, said she wanted to make sure parents would have information about the different options available to them prior to the meeting.

Perkins said she would distribute some information gathered by the East Bank Collaborative of Charter Schools.

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...