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New Beginnings abruptly cancels closed-door discussion of CEO’s contract Friday

The New Beginnings Schools Foundation planned to discuss its CEO’s contract in a closed session at 5 p.m. Friday but opted against it after The Lens’ editor objected.

State law specifically prohibits public bodies, which includes charter boards, from meeting privately to talk about awarding a contract.

They are allowed to meet privately to discuss the performance of an employee, but they have to provide proper notice beforehand. Board attorney Michelle Craig recommended the board meet later after doing so.

The board adjourned.

But when The Lens returned 30 minutes later to retrieve a misplaced item, six of the eight people who attended the meeting were still in the room, discussing something. They appeared surprised to see The Lens’ editor again.

“They were talking about the Mardi Gras holidays,” Craig said. “There was nothing nefarious going on.”

Two items were on the agenda for the specially called meeting at Lake Area New Tech Early College High School: review bids submitted by consultants hoping to conduct a review of the operation and discuss the contract of CEO Sametta Brown “in light of her recent performance evaluation,” Craig told The Lens before the meeting.

Three of the charter network’s four schools declined in the last round of state assessments, released in December. That included Medard H. Nelson Charter, which saw a precipitous drop from 67.3 points, a D on the state’s 150-point scale, to 41.2 points, an F.

When the agenda was issued Thursday, The Lens emailed a board representative to point out the prohibition against discussing contracts in executive session.

After the bids were discussed in the meeting, board attorney Michelle Craig, who was participating by phone, recommended that the board not hold the executive session because it had been challenged.

Two of the board members left; so did The Lens’ editor. He returned a half-hour later to the high school library meeting room, looking for a misplaced item.

Someone had closed the door, and six people were still there discussing something. When beckoned, one opened the locked door. It’s not clear if all six were board members or one was a staff member.

Board President Leslie Bouie, who was on the phone with Craig, hung up and told everyone they were finished and free to go.

Craig later told The Lens that Bouie told her the remaining board members were simply talking about how difficult it is to schedule meetings because of the events leading up to Fat Tuesday. Like many of the city’s charter board members, Craig said, the people who run the New Beginnings network are friends and likely to chat socially after the meetings. (That’s not against the law.)

New Beginnings has previously run afoul of the state’s open-meetings law. In June 2013, the state cited it for failing to take public comment from the audience before taking votes.

Brown, who is in the middle of a three-year contract as CEO, was not at the meeting. She makes $145,000 a year and can earn up to a 25 percent bonus if she meets a series of goals specified in her contract.

Those include increasing the scores at the four schools, with an emphasis on making sure none receives an F.

Three of the network’s four schools posted lower scores than last year:

  • Medard H. Nelson Charter School fell from 67.3, a D, to 41.2, an F.
  • Pierre A. Capdau Charter School fell from 89.9, a B, to 71.4, a C.
  • Gentilly Terrace Charter School fell from  67.3, a D, to 52, a D.
  • Lake Area New Tech Early College High rose from 64.5, a D, to 79.4, a C.

The first three schools serve students in kindergarten through eighth grades; the high school is ninth through 12th grade.

The four schools have about 2,000 students, making New Beginnings one of the larger charter groups in the city.

Staff writer Marta Jewson contributed to this report.

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