Two-thirds of Recovery School District charter schools in New Orleans have improved enough to return to the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board.
But the question is: Do they want to?
The Recovery School District was created as a temporary takeover and turnaround system for failing schools statewide, but a 2010 policy change nixed the automatic return process and put the decision in the hands of each charter school’s board.
Charter schools are run by independent nonprofit boards granted a charter contract by either the state or a local school board. Day-to-day operations and organizational decisions such as staffing, school calendar and curriculum choices are left to the school and its board. But the school does have to answer to its authorizer on a yearly basis for overall academic, financial and organizational health.
If the Recovery charters vote to return to the Orleans Parish School Board, their nonprofit boards will stay intact and day-to-day operations will remain much the same.
State-issued school scores released Thursday show that 33 of the district’s 52 schools are eligible to return. Recovery charters must earn a 54 on the state’s 150-point scale for two consecutive years to be eligible.
The boards must make the decision to stay or move by March 1.
Last year, 36 of the district’s 57 schools were eligible; only one school made the switch. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School became the first school to transfer back to the School Board on July 1.
Things could be different this year. The district finally has a permanent superintendent in place after a two-year search. The lack of a leader had been a chief criticism of the School Board.
The School Board also passed sweeping policy changes this fall. The district said Recovery leaders were included in policy revision discussions.
Among the changes in policy: selective-admissions schools must pass a higher bar than open-enrollment schools for charter renewals, and all open-enrollment schools must provide transportation for elementary students. Transportation has long been a sticking point between the education reformers who argue all children need equal access to schools and older charter schools who argue money can be better spent in the classroom.
Orleans schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis made rounds through the city’s seven School Board districts this fall, hosting an open town-hall meeting in each. In the meetings, he spoke about the city’s “fragmented” system and working to reunite the schools.
“We are enthusiastic about the Type 5 charter schools eligible to return to OPSB,” Lewis said in a statement issued by the district’s communications group. “Since beginning my tenure as leader of Orleans Parish Public Schools, we have been working collaboratively with educators across the city to revise and implement policies and create structures that support the return of these schools to OPSB.”
In May, a bill that would have sent all schools back to the control of the School Board failed in the House. Opponents said the School Board, which controls about a quarter of city schools, was unprepared for such an overwhelming return.
When high school performance scores were released this fall, both KIPP and the Algiers Charter School Association had eligible high schools. They said they would be waiting until early 2016 board meetings to discuss the matter.
Two schools run by Collegiate Academies network made the grade, but they aren’t eligible because state policy requires schools to have been in the RSD for five years to be eligible and they opened in 2012.
The district will begin meeting with schools in early 2016.
“Now that we have the official school performance scores, we can formally engage all transfer-eligible schools in the near future,” Lewis said.
Correction: This story initially misstated the number of RSD schools. There are 52.