The Orleans Parish School Board unanimously approved a facility plan Thursday night that recommends selling or trading away seven buildings the all-charter NOLA Public Schools district owns but no longer needs.
Board attorney Sharonda Williams introduced the item “as a blueprint for the ongoing management of district-owned property.”
Using newly established guidelines, such as a desired minimum site size of 3.5 acres, the district evaluated its property and the administration presented a plan for 26 properties, some of which have schools on them. The recommendations came after a series of community meetings in September.
The five-page plan calls for “divesting”12 properties, meaning auctioning them off, selling them to charter school operators or swapping them with other government agencies for properties better suited for schools. Seven of those properties have old schools or other buildings, including the historic Augustine Middle School building on South Broad Street. By selling or trading those properties, the district hopes to “reduce operations cost and make funds available for capital investment.”
The plan recommends keeping eight other properties for future needs. It keeps six facilities for “swing space” which could be used by small start-up charter schools or schools that need to temporarily relocate due to construction or emergency situations. The decisions were based in part on a measurement the district describes as the “Facility Condition Index” — a comparison of the cost to repair a building versus the cost to replace it.
Before any of the 12 properties can be sold they must be placed declared “surplus property,” a legal designation, by a board vote.
If the district no longer has a use for a property it must first be offered to charter schools for use before being auctioned off. The district can also trade land with another governmental agency. It’s currently in the process of swapping the old McDonogh No. 7 school for land owned by the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
One member of the public spoke during the public comment period for the plan, which was presented in detail during a Tuesday committee meeting but was only briefly summarized before the Thursday vote. Brenda Square said she hoped the district would give the Valena C. Jones school — one of the seven buildings the plan recommends for the surplus property list — to Rooted School, a Type 1 charter school. Type 1 charter schools do not automatically receive district buildings. Type 3, Type 3B and Type 4 charter schools are guaranteed district space.
“Jones school was a center of academic excellence,” Brenda Square said, asking board members to consider its historic significance as a former teacher training school for black teachers.
The board also heard a presentation on teacher turnover in the district. Alex Jarrell from New Schools for New Orleans, a local nonprofit that partners with the district on many projects, said 900 teachers left district schools last school year.
“We’re losing too many of our great teachers,” Jarrell said. “In fact, here in New Orleans we lost 29 percent of our teachers.”
Jarrell said a national grant program funding a teacher preparation program at Xavier University will run out at the end of this school year. He suggested in centralized school district’s sometimes the school board steps in to maintain such a program. Board member Nolan Marshall Jr. asked if he would provide financial information at the next meeting.
The board approved two policies related to school board meetings. One slightly changes public comment policy, including reducing an individual’s public comment time from three minutes to two. But the board has already been allotting only two minutes to public speakers in recent meetings.
NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said his thoughts and prayers were with students and families at Collegiate Academy’s Carver High School after a student was shot near school grounds Monday. Two Carver students were killed in a shooting earlier this school year. The boy shot Monday, was also from the class of 2021, Lewis said.
“This is happening in the community and again when I talk about three tragic loses and another shooting that happened this week,” he said. “As I said before, it is up to all of us, to teach our youth how to engage with one another in a peaceful, tolerant and respectful manner.”