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

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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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