Lagniappe Academies doesn’t have money to fight state school board over renewal

Parents at the soon-to-close Lagniappe Academies charter school had hoped legal action could help save their institution, which is scheduled to be shuttered at the end of this school year.

But the board of the 160-student campus determined Monday it doesn’t have the money necessary to wage a legal battle against the state, which did not renew Lagniappe’s charter.

A board member also told The Lens that two administrators are now gone.

Friday was the last day for Chief Executive Officer Kendall Petri and Chief Operating Officer Ninh Tran, board vice chairman Dan Henderson said. Director of Positive Education Ali McCormick has assumed leadership of the school.

The essence of the board’s legal concern is that state officials took action too late.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education policy requires “local school boards” to notify charter schools by Jan. 31 whether they’ll be renewed. It is unclear if that also applies to the Recovery School District, which oversees Lagniappe.

The mood Monday was much more somber than a Thursday meeting last week when the room was packed with parents voicing their concerns and vowing to fight to keep the school open.

The school was hit with a 160 page report in late February detailing special education violations and an alleged cover-up earlier this year, just days before the state voted not to renew the school’s charter.

On Monday a handful of parents were at the governing board’s meeting, perhaps because the meeting appears to have been scheduled over the weekend.

Before holding a closed-door session to discuss a potential lawsuit, board members raised concerns about the lack of a facility, should the lawsuit be successful.

“If we have to get out (of the current building), why hire a lawyer?” member Lee Pryor asked. “Because we can’t be here anyway.”

Pryor is referring to the land the school leases. It owns several modular buildings that sit on a leased parking lot in Treme. The school has leased the property for several years, but member Dan Forman said this is the final year of the lease and there is not an opportunity to renew.

The board discussed potential litigation privately for about 30 minutes.

After the session, member Emily Gummer said the board had spoken with an attorney, and it would cost $5,000 to begin work, in addition to fees for additional work. That’s something the school can’t afford, board members said.

No votes were taken after the executive session, other than to adjourn.

“It’s disheartening that the board’s forced basically into a situation where they have to close or fight,” Lagniappe parent Anthony Parker said. “And they don’t have the financial backing to fight.

“It doesn’t mean that we (parents) won’t stop fighting.” he said.

 Karran Harper Royal, a parent advocate who helps people navigate the complexities of public education in New Orleans, was also at Monday’s meeting.

“It is unfortunate that the Department of Education would put these parents in this position,” Royal said.

She said the state’s decision to delay the renewal into the spring was irresponsible, creating a time-crunch for both the board to respond and parents.

“It is wrong that the only solution is to disperse these children,” she said.

The RSD gave Lagniappe students a March 13 deadline to submit applications for other schools. District officials say Lagniappe students will be given priority in the placement process.

But Lagniappe parents questioned why the school couldn’t be provided with a new charter operator.

“In Lagniappe’s situation, there is no building to “take over” and there is no long term home for the school,” RSD Deputy Chief of Staff Laura Hawkins wrote to The Lens via email.

Hawkins said Lagniappe previously turned down a building the RSD offered to them.

“Time is our enemy,” vice chairman Dan Henderson said.

Henderson said the school cannot secure a facility without a charter, and, in addition to the cost burden, it was unlikely a legal battle could produce results by this summer.

“We have no charter at the end of the year. We have no money. We have no place to go. No new building.” Henderson said.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • nickelndime

    Well yeah, that’s how they (the State gets you) – “the money.” Too bad the Lagniappe charter board wasn’t really kept informed and up to date on the financial resources of the school, along with other things. And so, that is why the CEO/principal and the CFO (business manager) were overpaid for doing inept jobs. If the charter board cannot pay the attorney (who wants and needs that retainer), then who will fight for them? Maybe some attorney will take the Lagniappe case on pro bono, but it ain’t Willie, and who can blame him!? 03/16/2015 10:59 PM

  • nickelndime

    I am going to throw this out to the Lagniappe Board – INSURANCE? The charter board did pay for insurance – E & O (as in error and omissions, etc.) – right (required)? There are many hungry attorneys in this city and surrounding parishes. Remember this: Dobard came into power with Pastorek, and Pastorek tried to get the OPSB to revoke the charter of a charter school in eastern New Orleans because it was in an RSD-leased facility. It didn’t happen. Why? It wasn’t because of the OPSB – and you will get no help now from it. You figure it out. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Larry E. Demmons, Esq. represented the founders of the school. 03/16/2015 11:14 PM

  • nickelndime

    An overpaid CEO (without professional educational credentials) and an overpaid Vietnamese COO – tell me – tell all of us – how did you (Lagniappe Board) manage to find these two? Moving along. Maybe you should have Ray Smart speak to Larry Demmons if you really want to keep this school open. Demmons has personal and professional (litigation) experience with Pastorek (who is gone but still around) and he sure as hell knows that (expletive-deleted) lackey Patrick Dobard. 03/17/2015 1:48 AM

  • nickelndime

    If the RSD is really interested in all of the students in Orleans Parish public schools, then it would have been engaging in on-going and continuous monitoring of RSD charter schools (not after complaints are made). It (the RSD) is engaging in “portfolio management” and shopping around among favored charter operators and ignoring its primary educational responsibilities, which, by the way, it is taking so lightly at other people’s expense. The RSD has relied on two methods of dealing with problems: (1) School closure, which has affected thousands of students, and/or (2) Assigning one of the State’s favored “operators” to take over a school. The RSD/BESE did not offer option (2) to Lagniappe families. Instead, the RSD holds onto power and the control over local school districts, which it claims is its constitutional right. To listen to Patrick Dobard, the RSD trumps BESE. Lagniappe should be given the opportunity to go to the OPSB as a direct-run school instead of closing altogether and displacing 160 students whose families appear to want to keep their children enrolled. Make no mistake. The Lagniappe Board made numerous mistakes, including but not limited to, its selection of non-professionals in administrative positions and then compouding those errors by overpaying them for shoddy work and for not complying with providing students with a free and appropriate public education. It even contunues – the CEO/principal and COO are gone, but there is a “Director of Positive Education” and a “Dean of Students…” I understand, I really do understand why this board has no funds to fight a legal battle. 03/18/2015 5:50 PM