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FirstLine close, but not quite ready to return campuses to School Board control

Because the Orleans Parish School Board hasn’t addressed key issues in its governance, the directors of FirstLine Schools voted unanimously Friday to remain under the supervision of the Recovery School District.

The board does, however, hope to make the switch next year, said board Chairman Gregory St. Etienne.  Three of the organization’s five schools could have made the move this year.

The same decision faces several other charter school boards this year. It’s part of the structure of the state-run Recovery School District, which took over most schools in New Orleans in 2005, and created other charters since. If schools perform at an acceptable level on in the state accountability program for two consecutive years, they’re eligible to move back to the Orleans Parish School Board. But the first move is up to the charter board.

Nearly three dozen charters are eligible to make the switch, and many have been eligible for a few years. Only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School has done so, making the move for this academic year.

Over the past two years, the elected Orleans Parish School Board has been working on many charter boards’ concerns about rejoining, including school autonomy, equitable funding for special-needs students and the framework for reintroducing the charter schools.

“We have had schools in our group eligible for return for a number of years now,” St. Etienne said. “And in each case we have considered what the day after would be like. We want to make sure that we identify those key areas that we think the OPSB should have addressed before we return – such as the equity issues.”

FirstLine’s board meeting on Friday was short and undivided. Chief Executive Officer Jay Altman said FirstLine does have plans to rejoin in the future, assuming the Orleans Parish School Board puts together a stable policy and legal framework.

“Primarily what we mean by that is superintendent autonomy,” he said.

St. Etienne attributes FirstLine’s reluctance to rejoin in part to the city school board’s disunity. It has  made progress however, St. Etienne said, to the point that FirstLine considers it only a few steps away from rejoining.

“Every time we’ve taken a vote in the last three or four years, we’ve had a little addendum,” St. Etienne said. “We really want to do this but we have to knock these things off, and now we have one left. And that one is even being considered to almost be done.”

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