Orleans Parish School Board finding itself in the unusual role of a salesman

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If the Orleans Parish School Board wants to draw academically successful charter schools back into its folds, those sought-after schools have a bit of advice: Polish your sales pitch, and explain what’s in it for us.

Crescent City Schools’ board of directors on Wednesday chided a board representative, saying he should have made a harder sell — and it then voted to keep its schools in the Recovery School District.

Lagniappe Academies essentially said the same thing the next night before voting unanimously to keep its school under the RSD as well. Lagniappe was the eighth board with a school eligible to return to School Board oversight to decide against a transfer.

It is becoming increasingly clear that RSD charters aren’t interested in transferring to the local School Board unless it has something to offer.

So far, 15 of 36 eligible charter schools will stay put for the 2015-16 school year under the RSD. The rest have until Jan. 5 to decide.

Eligible schools were notified in early November that they could make the move, and some have been doing some comparison shopping. And they aren’t impressed with the School Board.

Charter boards have voiced plenty of concerns and complaints about the Orleans Parish School Board — mainly targeted at its lack of a permanent superintendent and its fractious board.

Orleans Parish Assistant Director of School Performance Sean Perkins was at Crescent City’s meeting Wednesday to field the board’s questions. It’s a thankless job that has taken on overtones of a pitchman; he stops just short of asking what he needs to do to get you into this quality pre-owned school system today.

“So what, if any, benefits exist?” board member Coleman Ridley asked.

If they transfer to the School Board, the school can have access to shared services, professional development and seven locally elected school board members, Perkins tells boards.

Member Carolyn Chandler wanted to know if there were any financial advantages to switching.

And member Frank Rabalais didn’t “really see any advantage to going back to OPSB.”

Board Chairman J.P. Hymel echoed those sentiments.

“I think anytime you look at change it’s difficult,” Hymel said. “When you consider change, you have to really feel comfortable with what you’re moving to.”

And without a superintendent in place, Crescent City leaders couldn’t see a reason to switch. Especially when the network would be operating two schools under the School Board and keep one, a recent takeover, under the RSD.

Hymel observed that the School Board representatives had begun flocking to charter board meetings this month.

“Don’t just hit us in November, December,” Hymel told Perkins. “But come to us throughout the year.”

Perkins faced a similar crowd on Thursday at Lagniappe Academies.

One member asked why the School Board wanted charters back, as she presumed was the case from reading media reports.

Perkins said it’s about kids and education and that he was not trying to make a sales pitch.

“You are no longer a school that is in recovery,” Perkins said.

He was pointing out the Recovery School District’s roots as a state-created entity designed to improve schools academically and then return them to their local districts. However, a 2010 state-level policy change allows charters to decide when or if to transfer; it’s not an automatic return process.

“One of things that we’ve struggled with for awhile now is facilities,” member Dan Forman said.

Lagniappe owns modular buildings that sit on a leased lot on the 1500 block of St. Louis Street. School leaders want to remain in the area but their lease is up at the end of the year.

Perkins said the district could offer no guarantees on a building or space.

Member Dan Henderson said he was hoping to find value in returning.

“I couldn’t find anything that was really stand out as a big lure for us to grab onto and take us into the system,” Henderson said.

On Thursday Perkins made clear that the switch was “not a business deal,” but about educating children.

“There’s no special deal,” he told the board.

And he continued to answer the board’s questions and take comments.

“We’re sitting here in our minds saying we’re doing a better job…we’re doing a better job than the public schools,” member Lee Pryor said.

“A charter school is a public school,” Perkins asserted while looking confused by the statement.

After a little more discussion the board introduced a motion to remain in the RSD.

Perkins suggested the board defer its vote until December after speaking further with the School Board.

Lagniappe then voted unanimously to stick with the RSD.

Perhaps Henderson best summarized the evening’s proceedings and the week’s worth of charters voting to remain in the RSD:

“Nobody likes change except a wet baby.”

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