Charter schools under Algiers and Choice boards to remain with recovery district

Choice Foundation and the Algiers Charter Schools Association voted to keep a combined seven schools under the authority of the state-run Recovery School District at their respective board meetings Thursday night.

All three of Choice’s schools were eligible, while four of ACSA’s six schools could transfer to the auspices of the Orleans Parish School Board. Ten years after the district took over a majority of the city’s schools, charters that score high enough on state accountability measures can choose to return local control.

The networks follow the lead of many of the recovery charters, electing to stay in the district that was established as a temporary turnaround district. But a state policy change in 2010 eliminated an automatic return process in favor of allowing boards to choose when they wanted to return — meaning a school would never have to leave the RSD, and that the RSD has no clear end.

Throughout the city, 33 of the Recovery School District’s 52 charter schools are eligible to return to the Orleans Parish School Board for the 2016-17 school year. Last year, 36 of 57 schools were eligible, but only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School took the leap.

Friends of King operates Dr. King Charter, and the nonprofit board retains its autonomy, setting policy and curriculum. The board now answers to the School Board for overall academic, financial, and operational performance. The board also runs Joseph A. Craig Charter School, which remains under the recovery district, meaning the board answers to two authorizing agencies.

Choice CEO Mickey Landry said Choice is the only network to have all its schools eligible.

Choice operates 450-student Esperanza Charter School, 950-student Lafayette Academy Charter School and 500-student McDonogh No. 42 Elementary Charter School.

Choice leaders were concerned with a lack of legislative protections for their autonomy, despite policy changes that allows them to maintain autonomy.

“The policy could change at the Orleans Parish School Board level,” he said. “We would prefer a legislative fix to that, at the state level.”

The School Board’s higher property insurance rates also concern Choice. Landry said rough estimates put the increase at $50,000 to $100,000 per school per year. Two weeks ago, New Beginnings charter network voted to transfer two schools contingent on the School Board matching the RSD’s lower insurance rates.

But it’s unclear if the School Board will be able to match lower insurance rates. The RSD, likely an outlier in most school district scenarios, enjoys lower rates because it’s part of a statewide property insurance pool. The School Board isn’t likely to see decreasing insurance rates unless a critical mass of schools return. And the state pool that insures the RSD isn’t likely to want to take on a risky Gulf Coast city.

Board member Robert Evans echoed Landry’s concerns. He and Landry met with School Board central office staff last week. He especially wants to see the legislative level protections.

“Until then it seems to us that this is not the time to make a move,” he said.

Evans also said with an upcoming School Board election, he saw no harm in waiting a year. He said waiting could be advantageous for RSD charters to maintain some leverage.

In addition to the conditional New Beginnings shifts, the KIPP charter organization has decided to begin the transfer process for its high school.

It’s unclear if Choice followed state law properly in noticing the Thursday meeting. The board cancelled its Tuesday meeting due to inclement weather, but used the exact same agenda, including the date, to notice Thursday’s meeting.

The Algiers Charter School Association board also voted to keep its schools in the RSD. Algiers members said now was not the time to move especially with the “status” of their network. They were not specific, but the network is undergoing leadership changes, with an interim CEO appointed last month and the principal at its flagship high school on paid leave amid suspicious test scores.

Algiers oversees about 4,200 students across six schools. Landry-Walker High School, Eisenhower Academy, Behrman Charter School, and McDonogh No. 32 Literacy Academy were eligible to transfer to OPSB. The network’s other two schools — Algiers Technology Academy and Fischer Accelerated Academy — were not.

Member Nicole Sheppard said the board had not formally met with Orleans Parish School Board representatives.

The Algiers board then spent an hour and a half in a closed-door meeting to discuss potential litigation and allegations of misconduct. After the meeting, board President John Edwards declined to discuss the private session.

Members on both boards said they expect Rep. Joseph Bouie Jr. to file a bill requiring the return of RSD schools to OPSB. Bouie filed a similar bill last year that made it out of committee but failed in the House. Landry said last year, he asked Bouie to include a provision allowing schools to return to RSD if they were not satisfied with OPSB, but it was not included.

Charter boards have until Tuesday to tell the state if they plan to return to OPSB. The transfer requires approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a new operating agreement so the charter board vote is really only a first step.

Fannie C. Williams Charter School’s board will vote Monday night and Mary D. Coghill Charter School’s board is tentatively scheduling a meeting for Tuesday.

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