The New Beginnings charter board made history Monday night, quickly reconsidered the action, and then worked to undo it and delay a decision on transferring one of its four charter schools back to Orleans Parish School Board oversight.
Had its original 3-2 vote carried, the board would have been the first to move a school from the Recovery School District to the School Board. The day-to-day operations and overall authority to run Lake Area New Tech Early College High School would have remained with the New Beginnings Schools Foundation and its board, but general oversight would have shifted to the School Board.
The unusual votes, an amendment and a recount happened in quick succession and with such a lack of clarity that some board members were confused as to the vote tallies or the outcome. The board secretary even said he’s not sure how all of this is going to be recorded in the official minutes.
The meeting began with a presentation many RSD charter boards will hear this month: School Board Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools Kathleen Padian describing what transferring to OPSB oversight would entail.
New Beginnings oversees four charter schools, three of which are eligible to return for the 2015-16 school year — Lake Area high school and Gentilly Terrace and Medard Nelson elementary schools. In total, 36 Recovery School District charters are eligible to transfer next academic year.
Charter boards must vote publicly to make the move, and decisions are due to the state by Jan. 5.
Of the 10 New Beginning board members, only five were present for the start of the meeting, not enough for a quorum that would let them conduct a meeting. Vice Chairwoman Sheila Danzey arrived 50 minutes late at 6:20 p.m., achieving a quorum. She assumed leadership in the absence of Chairman Ramsey Green.
She read the agenda aloud, and after the item regarding the transfer of all three eligible schools, she asked CEO Sametta Brown for a summary and advice.
“We are curious about the return to Orleans Parish but have not come up with a definite recommendation,” Brown said.
Member Leslie Bouie made a motion to maintain the status quo and stay with the Recovery School District. She said too many details remain unknown, and pointed out that only the School Board had sent a representative to the meeting.
“Nobody from RSD, however, is here asking us to stay,” Bouie said.
“I’m here,” said state department of education employee Olin Parker from the back of the room.
Parker said the department has decided to stay hands-off in these decisions and respect charter operators’ decisions.
“We would love to have you, but Orleans Parish is a great place to be as well,” Parker said.
Bouie said the transfer process appears to have improved in the past year, so there may be still more advantages in waiting another year.
“My recommendation or my motion would be to remain with the Recovery School District for at least this year,” Bouie said. Member Don Wheat seconded the motion.
However, member Travis Chase had another idea. If the outcome of the transfer was still a bit unknown, why not just transfer Lake Area as a pilot, he suggested.
“There’s a motion on the floor. Are you asking to amend the motion?” Danzey asked.
“Yes,” Chase said.
Danzey asked Bouie if she were willing to accept the amendment.
“Oh yeah, no, absolutely, ” Bouie said after a short explanation from Chase.
Danzey asked Chase to restate the motion before calling a vote.
“To just have Lake Area be an independent Type 3 LEA…..to return to Orleans Parish School Board,” he said. “But not Nelson and not Gentilly Terrace, and Capdau is ineligible.”
Brown said the administration would prefer to transfer all three. Wheat, who seconded the original motion, agreed with Brown to move all or none.
“Let me suggest if you second the amendment then we can vote the motion up or down,” Danzey said. So Wheat did.
“All those in favor of returning Lake Area only, I’m kind of summarizing, to the Orleans Parish School Board let it be known by aye,” Danzey said.
A string of aye’s came out, along with raised hands.
“All opposed?” Danzey asked.
There was a muffled “no.”
“So that was three for the aye’s,” Danzey said, after looking around the table for clarification.
“Three for the….let’s do this again,” Danzey said.
She called for a vote again and counted: Chase, Bouie and member Val Marshall voted for the transfer. Wheat and Austin Zaunbrecher voted against it. Three to two.
“So the motion passes to return Lake Area to the Orleans Parish School Board,” Danzey declared.
Suddenly a flurry of chatter broke out as board members tried to sort out what appeared to be a surprise result.
One member asked Danzey how she voted.
“I don’t vote,” she said. “I vote to break the tie.”
After the meeting, Danzey cited Robert’s Rules of Order in explaining that the chair does not vote unless there is a tie.
“It’s two no’s and three yes’s until you vote,” Wheat said.
“You have to vote,” one member said.
“Well, I vote [only] to break the tie,” Danzey said. “There is no tie.”
After some indiscernible talk among members, another declaration.
“So that one dies, because it’s a tie,” Chase said.
“And I’m voting against it,” Danzey said.
Three to three.
“Can I just make a different motion?” Wheat asked. “Do you mind?”
“I think this is really obviously too important at this point for the six of us to decide,” Wheat said.
He offered a motion to defer the vote, seconded by Bouie. That vote was either 5-1 or 4-1; board members couldn’t agree on the tally after the meeting.
“I’m confused as well,” Danzey said after the meeting.
“I did vote, so that tied it 3-3,” she said, adding that she voted after seeing the initial result come out 3-2.
Asked to clarify her conflicting statements regarding abstaining and voting Danzey said: “Well, I changed…OK…It’s late in the evening…”
Asked on Tuesday morning about transferring Lake Area to the School Board, Wheat said he didn’t think the vote was official in the end.
Asked what he would record as board secretary, he didn’t offer a clear answer.
“I think in the end it just ended up being a tie, if you want to call it that,” he said.
“What we were trying to do at the end of the day was delay the vote until we had the president and more of the board there,” Wheat said, “which is what we should have done in the first place.”