The Orleans Parish School Board is searching for someone to operate the Central City facility that houses Mahalia Jackson Elementary School and several other programs, but it’s still unclear if the school will close.

The document seeking proposals for the building doesn’t explicitly mention the school, though it does describe early childhood programming up to third grade. A spokeswoman wouldn’t say whether OPSB plans to keep the school open.

But board member Ben Kleban, whose district includes Mahalia Jackson, said he believes a school will remain, though it probably would be a charter.

“I think the intent is the same as it has been from the beginning, which is to maintain the programming that’s there and maybe even enhance it,” he said.

The school district released a request for proposals Friday, seeking a “lead partner and facilities manager” for the site.

In addition to the pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary school, the building houses a library branch, a health clinic and an early childhood education program.

Parents at the small elementary, one of only four district-run schools remaining in the city, have endured a tumultuous year. They lost their principal of six years last fall.

Then a nascent charter group composed of district principals and central office staff applied to charter the district’s remaining traditional schools, including Mahalia Jackson.

After a poor review partly based on questions about the financial viability of the small school, the district quietly limited new enrollees to siblings of current students.

“I think the intent is the same as it has been from the beginning, which is to maintain the programming that’s there and maybe even enhance it.”—School board member Ben Kleban

Then, soon before Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was set to make recommendations on the charter applications, he told parents at Mahalia Jackson he wanted to close the school next spring and turn it into a community center.

In April, a school board committee approved his recommendation. But a week later, the school board voted to delay the decision.

Since then, founding principal Lakeysha London has been reassigned to the school, which pleased some parents.

The district has held a number of meetings with the school community. One was last week, said Marie Thompson, whose two grandchildren attend the 275-student elementary school.

“They’re still talking about bringing it back as a pre-k to third” grade school, she said. But she doesn’t know if it would be run by a charter organization.

The district’s request for proposals doesn’t make it clear.

It does not require proposals to include an elementary school, but it does request “stability” for current tenants and students.

It says any proposal must serve the “educational purpose” of the facility, specifically “early childhood educational services.”

The district wants to use a portion of the building for gifted and special-education screening and evaluations, as well as walk-in services for preschool special education.

Orleans Parish School Board spokeswoman Dominique Ellis didn’t answer our question about whether the school will stay open after next spring.

She provided a copy of a presentation describing the school district’s plans, but it just says staff will offer recommendations regarding the school and the facility in November.

Kleban said the request for proposals makes it clear that a school will continue to operate there. He cited one section saying proposals for the facility must “provide for educational opportunities for students and families,” with an emphasis on birth through age 8.

“I think it’s pretty clear there’s an intent to maintain early elementary programming up to third grade,” Kleban said.

But it probably would be a charter school, he said, because he doesn’t think the district intends to run a school there.

The school board has not voted to close the school and Kleban said he’s not aware of any upcoming vote.

Proposals for the facility are due at the end of October.

New Orleans’ centralized enrollment process begins in November. Gabriela Fighetti, the enrollment director for the Recovery School District, said her team will communicate with families once the school board votes on the future of the school.

If Mahalia Jackson is closed, students will move to the front of the line when choosing a new school.

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...