The Press Club of New Orleans honored Lens reporters Marta Jewson and Charles Maldonado on Saturday evening for their reporting on charter schools and local government.
Jewson also won the Alex Waller Memorial Award, which recognizes the best among all writing award-winners.
The stories that received top honors are good examples of the in-depth, public-interest reporting that The Lens specializes in. They dealt with important matters of government accountability: a charter school board’s private discussions about a teachers’ union drive and overpayments to local sheriff’s deputies.
The Lens was the only news outlet to report these stories, and we stuck with them.
Jewson won first-place in the investigative category for her stories about how the board governing Lusher Charter School sidestepped the state’s Open Meetings Law when dealing with a teachers’ union drive.
Emails obtained through public-records requests revealed that board members emailed copies of a key resolution back and forth, debated whether to vote on recognizing the union, and set up small meetings of board members to avoid the state’s requirement to notify the public.
The school board also dragged its feet in responding to our public-records requests. The Lens never received some of the records we requested, including Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger’s emails for a particular period of time.
After we published our first story, the Orleans Parish schools superintendent said his staff would look into the matter. But the school district was apparently satisfied with the school’s defense of its actions, and it took no action.
Maldonado won first place in the continuing coverage category for his stories about Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputies who received extra pay that they weren’t supposed to get. A former deputy filed a complaint with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which concluded that Sheriff Marlin Gusman appeared to have overpaid his deputies $1 million.
The state treasurer withheld some payments, spurring a lawsuit by Gusman. The state eventually reinstated payments to some deputies, although questions remain about whether they’re qualified to get them.
Jewson won second place in that category for her coverage of ReNEW Schools’ violation of federal law on special education. A state Department of Education investigation found that the charter network inflated special-education numbers to get more funding and failed to provide special-education services to other students.
The state started looking into the matter shortly after Jewson reported that two administrators had abruptly quit amid questions over testing procedures. The state’s report on ReNEW’s violations cited that story. (That coverage garnered a first-place award last year from the press club.)
Maldonado got third place in the investigative category for his story about Airbnb rentals in taxpayer-subsidized buildings.
We congratulate all the winners.