The Dryades YMCA, which runs James M. Singleton Charter School in Central City, has resolved its warning from NOLA Public Schools for problematic employee background checks — one of several such warnings for legal and policy violations that the school has faced in the last year and the one that prompted the district to announce its intent to shutter the school and led to the arrest of Dryades’ former chief financial officer.
The school was ordered to re-run the screenings for employees after former CFO Catrina Reed was arrested in June, accused of fabricating employee background checks — which are required for school employees under state law — and pocketing about $400 in fees meant to pay for them. Reed was released the day after her arrest. The case is pending in Magistrate Court while the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office considers whether to file formal charges against Reed.
The district notified the school that it considered the matter resolved a July 16 letter penned by Executive Director of Accountability Litouri Smith.
“Dryades YMCA has acted in good faith to rectify the issues outlined in the March 10, 2021 notice,” Smith wrote. “As is such, this letter is notice that NOLA Public Schools has officially closed this notice of non-compliance.”
After NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. announced he planned to close the school over the summer by revoking the YMCA’s contract to run it and reassign students, Dryades YMCA the district in an attempt to prevent it from moving students or contacting teachers until the revocation was finalized. That could happen as early as July 29, when Lewis will present his recommendation to the Orleans Parish School Board, or during the board’s August meeting.
The board has up to a month to override Lewis’ recommendation, but delaying much longer risks further disruption for Singleton students, parents and employees. According to the school’s 2021-2022 school year calendar, teacher professional development begins on Aug. 2, and classes begin on Aug. 9.
As part of its lawsuit, the YMCA also requested the two sides be ordered to mediation, as allowed for in charter contracts. That request was granted, and district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said Thursday evening that “mediation remains ongoing.”
It’s unclear how the two sides came to a resolution on the background checks. In mid-June, Singleton Principal Erika Mann told The Lens the screenings had been completed for all but one employee, who was not returning to the school. But in a court hearing earlier this month, district Director of School Accountability Paige Jackson testified that the warning was outstanding because not all background checks had been completed, including for employees who weren’t returning. Jackson said those were needed because she wanted to secure legal compliance for the 2020-2021 school year, not just the upcoming school year.
It appears the district backed off that demand, according to Alfonzo.
“The NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) accountability team confirmed the school obtained background checks from the Louisiana State Police for everyone who was employed at the school last year and is returning for the upcoming school year,” Alfonzo wrote in an email.
“NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) takes seriously the safety and security of students and appreciates the school’s cooperation in resolving issues related to the background checks,” she wrote.
The school has received district warnings for alleged financial mismanagement — claiming its parent organization owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the school. But YMCA officials have argued the organization can’t owe itself money. The district has also taken issue with the school’s interim CEO Samuel Odom, who resigned from the board to take the interim position on a volunteer basis. The district argues this is a violation of state ethics law while YMCA officials contend it is not and have noted they’ve requested an advisory opinion from the state attorney general.
Asked whether Singleton has any outstanding notices of non-compliance, Alfonzo wouldn’t say.
“Given the pending mediation, NOLA-PS cannot comment on the outstanding Notice(s) of Non-Compliance issued to Dryades YMCA at this time,” she said.