Parents and other members of the public will have a chance to speak out Tuesday night about an effort by a new nonprofit group to turn New Orleans’ last five traditional schools into charters.

The hearing begins at 6 p.m. at McDonogh 35 Senior High School, 4000 Cadillac St. The Lens will live-blog it below.

ExCEED Network Schools Charter Management Organization wants to take over these schools:

  • Benjamin Franklin Mathematics and Science School, an elementary school
  • Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School of Literature and Technology
  • Mahalia Jackson Elementary School
  • Eleanor McMain Secondary School
  • McDonogh 35 Senior High School

ExCEED is the only applicant for all five schools. Better Choice Foundation wanted to take over the three elementary schools, but it withdrew after portions of its application appeared to have been copied from a different group’s.

InspireNOLA has been approved to “replicate” its A-rated high school, so it could get one of the two high schools instead of ExCEED.

If all five schools become charters, New Orleans would become the first city in the U.S. where the elected school board doesn’t directly run any public schools.

Charter schools in Louisiana are publicly funded but run by private, nonprofit groups. They have the freedom to make decisions regarding matters such as curriculum, school calendars and staff.

They must meet certain standards, including academic and financial, to keep their charter contracts.

Principals at the five schools, who would remain if ExCEED takes them over, have been pushing hard for parental support. The Ben Franklin Elementary parent-teacher organization sent a voice message to parents on Monday, urging them to attend the hearing to support ExCEED’s bid.

Besides the principals, ExCEED’s team includes current and former Orleans Parish School Board central office staff.

Nicolette London quit her job overseeing those schools for the school district to become CEO of ExCEED. Four OPSB employees, who also work in the office that manages the schools, have been named to top positions at ExCEED.

That raises potential conflicts of interest because, by law, public employees must wait two years before going to work for an outside organization if they dealt with the organization at their government job. Public employees also must wait two years before doing the same work as a contractor for their former public agency.

ExCEED suffered a serious setback last week when independent evaluators concluded it isn’t ready to run five schools. They said the application didn’t meet standards in four key areas and raised a host of questions about how the group would run the schools and execute its vision.

In December, Orleans schools superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said the five principals wanted to convert their schools to charters. The ExCEED nonprofit registered with the state in January, a week before formally expressing interest in the schools.

Principals asked parents to sign fill-in-the-blank letters supporting ExCEED in January, before they knew who the CEO would be or whether anyone else would apply to take over the schools.

Lewis spoke at school meetings that month to explain the charter process, at times appearing to support ExCEED’s effort. Part of his pitch was financial: He told parents at Bethune Elementary the switch would bring more funding directly to the school.

Charter organizations get all of their per-pupil funding, but they also are responsible for many things that a school district’s central office handles, such as finances, human resources and transportation.

Lewis and principals told parents at those meetings the schools would maintain the same curriculum, focus, and traditions.

Lewis also said he would favor applicants that maintained the state pension system for teachers, a more costly benefit than the 401(k) retirement plans many charter groups offer. ExCEED plans to participate in the state pension system.

Some parents asked at those meetings why the group wants to charter the schools if nothing needs to change. Others spoke in support of chartering them, saying they supported whatever their principals wanted.

Tuesday night, ExCEED representatives will make a presentation to the board. Members of the public must submit a comment card in the first 30 minutes of the meeting and will be limited to two minutes each.

Lewis could decide to charter some, all or none of the schools. He will make his recommendation to the school board April 18.

The board can overturn his decision if five of the seven members vote to do so.

Audio: WWNO examines New Orleans’ charter experiment

By Mallory Falk, WWNO

Live blog, 6 p.m. Tuesday

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...