Coghill Charter School board member resigns amid scrutiny

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The board of Mary D. Coghill Charter School accepted the resignation of board member Eric Jones at its Tuesday meeting, after scrutiny over reimbursements he received and a directive he issued to teachers not to issue F’s.

The announcement comes one day after a report that three top school employees were abruptly fired. The district has issued repeated warnings to the charter board for overstepping its boundaries.

WDSU-TV reported Monday that three administrators were fired from the school. The firings came after some parents were informed last week that their children would not be allowed to advance to the next grade in the coming school year despite having been enrolled in a remediation program meant to catch them up academically, according to the WDSU report. One parent quoted in the story called it a “bogus program” that “did absolutely nothing.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s board meeting, NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. issued a statement saying the district “has dispatched an on-site representative from our team to Mary D. Coghill Charter School to support the school’s leadership on a range of matters, including financial compliance, adequate staffing, bus availability and other school operations.”

Coghill is run by Better Choice Foundation. Board President Audrey Woods released a statement in response to the district announcement.

“Better Choice Foundation has been working closely with them to address all of their concerns. The number one priority of the Better Choice Foundation is the students,” Woods wrote in a statement to The Lens. “The Board selected a Head of School who determined that she needed a different team. The Board of Better Choice Foundation supports that decision.”

Woods introduced the new leader, Rayven Calloway, at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board attorney Michelle Craig said Jones submitted his resignation on Monday. The Lens has requested that letter through state Public Records Law.

Ida Richard, a former board member, was in attendance. She described Jones as “running amok” in the school. She also said the school has lost good teachers. Richard and other sources have said Jones and Calloway are romantically involved.

“So he’s not far away,” Richard said

That issue reportedly came up at Coghill’s July 22 board meeting — which The Lens was unable to attend. The Lens has repeatedly requested minutes from that meeting, citing the state Public Records Act, but the board’s attorney Michelle Craig has not provided them, initially saying they were still in draft form and not “finalized.” The law does not exempt draft meeting minutes of public bodies from disclosure.

Parent Tramaine Lewis has three children at the school, a soon-to-be kindergartener, fifth-grader and seventh-grader.

“I feel voiceless in the meetings,” Lewis said. “If it’s open to the public and open to the parents we should be able to have a say.”

“We’ve had a new principal every year,” Lewis said.

And she worries that frustration pours over to the teachers. “And then the children come home frustrated because the adults are operating in chaos.”

Calloway takes the reins amid a rash of board scrutiny and with several open warnings from the district.

In June, the district flagged the school for financial concerns. A letter from district Senior Equity and Accountability Officer Kelli Peterson detailed potentially inappropriate reimbursements to board member Eric Jones, a computer purchase using federal funding that violated board policy, teacher appreciation day expenses of $8,709 and violations of district policy regarding alcohol consumption.

Peterson wrote that the district’s “observations will also be shared with Louisiana Legislative Auditor, Orleans Parish District Attorney, and the Louisiana Board of Ethics.”

According to the district, Jones had also directed Coghill staff not to give F’s to students. District administrators said board members are not supposed to be involved in day-to-day operations of the school.

Lewis said the district is continuing to work with the school on financial matters.

“Our staff is connecting the school with partner organizations to provide teacher candidates for interviews for the teaching vacancies,” he said in the provided statement.

Coghill is a D-rated charter school with about 600 students located on the 4600 block of Mirabeau Avenue. The school’s charter contract is up for renewal in December.

The board approved a new bus contract Tuesday night with WR Transport. The school’s operations director said the school received two bids. According to Coghill’s website, the charter group released the request for transportation proposals Friday, held an option meeting for bidders at noon, and the proposals were due at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The board also approved a new calendar Tuesday night. After the meeting, parents outside the school expressed frustration as they scanned the website and could not find a copy.

In his statement, Lewis said the district is “working closely with Better Choice Foundation to ensure that the school is able to have a productive and safe school year and that the current non-compliance issues regarding charter board governance and oversight do not impact students and families. Students, and their futures, are always our number one concern.”

Richard, the former board member, is glad the district is keeping an eye on Coghill but she thinks more drastic action should be taken.

“I think it’s an absolute joke and I think it’s time for OPSB to take these schools back.”

This story was updated with reporting from Tuesday night’s Coghill board meeting.

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