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Week in Review: Plaquemines Parish residents seek answers on state coastal restoration efforts

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has a complex plan for reconnecting the Mississippi River with coastal regions that have steadily disappeared under Gulf waters. They have a detailed timeline for the effort, stretching over several years, and right now they have a huge amount of money to throw at these efforts.

But they still have to win over a skeptical part of the public in south Louisiana, particularly in coastal communities where commercial fishing could be impacted by the projects. And ultimately it still won’t be enough to completely reclaim the state’s lost territory.

Part of the campaign to win over the skeptics is a series of public meetings, called “Coastal Connections.” The latest occurred at the Braithwaite Auditorium in Plaquemines Parish Wednesday afternoon.

These events are designed to put CPRA project leaders and engineers face to face with residents and businesses who may be impacted by two massive river diversion projects, the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton Sediment Diversions.

City councilwoman wants to shift tourism funding to public transportation

New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer is calling for an end to a longtime arrangement that diverts about half of the Regional Transit Authority’s hotel tax revenues to the tourism industry.

A one-percent sales tax — approved in 1985 to fund transit — is the agency’s primary revenue source, bringing in about $78 million in 2017, according to the RTA’s most recent annual audit, nearly four times the revenue from rider fares.

The portion of that tax from hotel sales is expected to bring in about $12 million in 2019, but only about $6.3 million of that will go to the RTA, according to estimates in a recent report from the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Under an agreement signed nearly two decades ago, the rest is split between the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., the Morial Convention Center and the city, which uses its portion for tourism promotion. Based on projected 2019 hotel tax collections, BGR estimates that  those agencies will get $2.7 million, $2.9 million and $400,000, respectively, from the RTA this year.

“I want to see the money go back to the RTA,” Palmer told The Lens. “I want to see it used to expand bus routes, especially for hospitality workers. … We need more bus routes, we need more service, and here is a potential $6 million annually that could go to that. Our people deserve that.”

Auditors again find financial problems with nonprofit that ran Harney elementary

An audit of Edgar Harney elementary school’s former nonprofit operator, Spirit of Excellence Academy Inc., revealed more and continuing operational problems within the now defunct charter group.

The report, a financial and compliance audit released Monday, flagged a problem with the school’s check disbursements and said its small finance department was a cause for concern. Both of those issues were flagged in last year’s audit, too.

The 74-page document also noted the school’s failure to submit federal grant reimbursement requests on time, a lack of clear financial policies, failure to follow its own policies and poor record-keeping.

The biggest takeaway from the audit, said Bradley Cryer, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s director of local government services, is that Spirit of Excellence, Inc. is unlikely to continue operating.

“The biggest concern is they’ve lost their charter,” Cryer said.

Practically speaking, however, that’s not really a concern. It’s the Orleans Parish school district’s plan. And it’s already been implemented.

Behind The Lens episode 18: ‘A very difficult and unpleasant decision that is part of the landscape in New Orleans’

This week on Behind The Lens, New Orleans’ approach to education has resulted in a revolving door of education providers — charter schools — for the city’s students. Sometimes, changes at poorly performing schools don’t seem to come soon enough.

We have a preview of reporter Marta Jewson’s work on the tricky question of when to close failing schools in New Orleans.

Also, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has a complex plan for reconnecting the Mississippi River with disappearing coastal regions. The agency has a plan for the effort and, right now, a lot of money to work with.

But they still have to win over a skeptical part of the public in South Louisiana. Part of that is a series of “Coastal Connections” meetings throughout the region. The latest one was in Braithwaite. Host and producer Tom Wright went there and spoke to the CPRA’s project manager for the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton diversions.

Opinion: Time to get real about ‘open’ enrollment: what works, what’s a workaround?

Harriet Tubman Charter School Principal Julie Lause responds to a column in NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune:

“I was proud that, as the most recent school performance scores were released,  the state honored Harriet Tubman Charter School for both “equity” in its admissions practices and for achieving “top gains” in its academic performance.

“The twin designations mean that Tubman students of all ethnicities, economic backgrounds, and special-need status are making strong academic gains at the same rate. The designations were especially meaningful to me, as principal, because Tubman, alone among this year’s crop of honorees, is both a formerly failing school and one with an open-enrollment or come-one-come-all admissions policy.

“And yet, newspaper columnist Jarvis DeBerry saw fit to criticize Tubman as one of the equity honorees “being rewarded for gatekeeping.” DeBerry’s columns are often worth reading, but on this occasion his criticism reveals a misunderstanding of a much larger issue that should be the focus of district-wide discussion and debate, a debate rooted in hard facts.”

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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.