Inside the News Room
 

Week in Review: Troubled school faces closure, possible criminal investigation over board mismanagement

Marta Jewson / The Lens

Parents of Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy students speak with a TV crew after the closing charter school’s board appointed a new principal at a meeting on Nov. 7, 2018. Two days prior, the superintendent announced the charter school would close at the end of the school year.

Orleans Parish school district Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. told Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy parents and staff crammed into the Central City charter school Monday night that it will close at the end of school year.

He also called for all members of the embattled charter school board to step down. Lewis said the district discovered matters it has referred to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, which handles criminal investigations. Lewis said the school district has also alerted the Louisiana Legislative Auditor about the school.

“We didn’t just get here last week or this month,” district administrator Amanda Aiken said. “There have been ongoing compliance issues with Harney.”

Later in the week, the school moved to expand its legal team.

The Lens election map: See how Louisiana voted

Amendment 2, which will repeal the state’s non-unanimous jury law, passed with overwhelming support: 64% for to 36% against. Gaining even greater support, though, was Amendment 1, which will prohibit people from running for public office for five years after completing a felony sentence. Amendment 6, the property tax increase “phase in,” passed as well.

Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who took over the office after former SOS Tom Schedler resigned following a sexual harassment allegation, will get a chance at winning the office in his own right in December, when he’ll face Democrat Gwen Collins in the runoff.

In Orleans Parish, Omar Mason and Marie Williams are also going to a runoff in the race for Civil District Court, Div. E, judge.

Support The Lens

We prioritize transparency and accountability in our reporting. It’s what you expect from us.

Today, especially in this era of misinformation and attacks on press freedoms, we’re asking you to stand up for truth. Between now and Dec. 31 we’re eligible for a matching gift opportunity from NewsMatch, a national call-to-action that support nonprofits like us. We can earn up to $25,000 in matching dollars, which means The Lens can raise $50,000 in total. Give today.

Compare 2018 New Orleans school ratings

The Louisiana Department of Education released school ratings Thursday. The A-F letter grades help parents gauge school performance, and the nearly all-charter Orleans Parish school district uses the ratings to decide which charter schools will remain open.

The Orleans Parish school district received a C letter grade for the third year in a row.

Only seven city schools earned A letter grades. They are Benjamin Franklin High School, Edna Karr High School, Edward Hynes Charter School, Lake Forest Elementary Charter School, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Warren Easton Senior High School.

Fifteen schools were rated F, and 18 were rated D.

The state has curved letter grades for the last four school years as harder standardized tests were introduced, in effect freezing the number of schools that received A’s and F’s.

But this year, the state is using a new calculation. It’s uncurved, but it takes year to year progress into account, which will likely benefit schools with low-achieving students who show growth.

Cantrell administration admits to inaccuracies in 2019 budget proposal

Longtime city Budget Director Cary Grant admitted on Friday that Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s first budget proposal, sent to the City Council on Nov. 1, contained glaring inaccuracies in the listed revenues from prior years. These numbers are necessary for the council to see whether various city revenue sources are rising or falling.

Grant apologized to the council on Friday — during the first hearing for the 2019 city budget — and adding that he had “never seen this happen before.”

While the inaccuracies caused confusion among the council, Councilman Jared Brossett said that it didn’t significantly impede the process.

“We caught it in time,” he said.

Orleans Parish will outsource last direct-run elementary school

Taking another step toward becoming an all-charter district, the Orleans Parish school district informed Cypress Academy parents it will hand the school over to an outside operator next year, in spite of the district’s promises to run the school directly through the 2019-2020 school year.

On Monday, Cypress parents will learn who the small school’s new charter operator will be, according to a letter district Chief of Schools Rene’ Lewis-Carter sent them this week. On Thursday, some Cypress parents attended a district public hearing to express their frustration.

“You may be asking, ‘Why now?’ And, ‘Why have we decided not to run the school for the 2019-20 school year as we initially committed?’” Lewis-Carter wrote in the letter.

Behind The Lens episode 6: ‘Why am I losing my neighborhood school?’

This week on the podcast, host and producer Tom Wright talks to education reporter Marta Jewson about the impending closure of Harney charter school.

Marta also discusses this year’s state ratings for Orleans Parish public schools.

Tom also interviews state Sen. J.P. Morrell about state Constitutional Amendment 2, which repeals Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law, and Amendment 6, which will allow large property tax increases to be phased in over several years. Louisiana voters passed both measures this week.

And reporter Michael Isaac Stein talks about the New Orleans city budget process, which got off to a late start this year.

Opinion: We’ve normalized Trump, but Tuesday night’s ‘victory’ may be his undoing

Opinion editor Jed Horne wraps up the 2018 midterms:

“Blue wave? Let’s get real. It didn’t happen, except in the Northeast where voters turned away from Trump in a wave of revulsion.

“But neither was it quite the stirring victory that Trump declared on Wednesday as — with his trademark mix of self-delusion and outright lying — he tried to paper over a major, potentially fatal, setback: losing control of the House of Representatives.”

Opinion: Justice reform hobbled by unhealthy dependence on bail, fines and court fees

Opinion columnist Vern Baxter:

“It’s time for the City of New Orleans to step up the pace of criminal justice reform. Too many citizens are still incarcerated for too long under harsh conditions, often for non-violent offenses.

“But there’s a much more shocking violation of the U.S. Constitution at play in the Orleans Justice Center (OJC): over half of all detainees are stuck in jail for months on end—sometimes years—before they have even been tried. And many of these citizens are held simply because they are too poor to pay bail, fines, and fees.”

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.