The organization that runs James M. Singleton Charter School is asking a judge to dismiss a suit it filed against the Orleans Parish School Board — seeking to stop the board and the NOLA Public Schools district from shuttering the school — over the summer.
The motion to dismiss, filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Friday, comes one month after the district filed a motion to subpoena records from three of the Central City school’s financial contractors.
The two sides are scheduled to discuss the subpoena request in a court hearing this week. The district contends the organization owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to the school. The organization, however, argues it can’t owe itself money.
That was one of many issues leading to a June announcement that district officials were planning to revoke the school’s charter over the summer. The district also had also recently issued warnings to the school over academic concerns and financial issues, as well as allegedly falsified criminal background checks for school employees.
Days after the revocation announcement, Dryades YMCA sued and was granted a restraining order that prevented the district from interfering with the school’s operations — allowing Singleton to open to students on time in August.
The district’s recent request to subpoena financial records appears to have caught Dryades officials off guard. The YMCA’s attorney, Charline Gipson, has argued the district is using the lawsuit — which focused on charter autonomy — to pry into unrelated matters.
But earlier this month, Civil District Court Judge Jennifer Medley essentially told Gipson that after filing a lawsuit that should have been expected.
“I remember these issues coming up,” Medley said. “And it’s kind of like opening a door when you get a [temporary restraining order].”
Asked about the decision to file for dismissal, Gipson said there is no longer a need for a lawsuit because the school opened on time and district officials recently told parents in a letter it will remain open this school year.
“The revocation issue has effectively been resolved,” she wrote in an email. “The lawsuit is moot.”
But asked about revocation, district officials have said they retain the right to invoke the process if necessary. And the letter sent to parents was a form letter sent to five other schools that are also in the final year of their charter contracts.
The district didn’t directly address questions about Dryades YMCA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo told The Lens on Monday they will continue to seek financial records from the school.
“Consistent with its financial oversight obligations under the Operating Agreement, Charter School Accountability Framework, and Louisiana law, the district has a responsibility to seek the financial records associated with the approximately $1.1 million dollars in funds owed by the Dryades YMCA to the James M. Singleton Charter School,” Alfonzo wrote in an email.
“As a steward of public funds and trust, the district has no intention of ignoring this responsibility and will ensure that all funds allocated for the specific purpose of educating public school children are not used for any improper purpose,” she wrote.
Whether or not the district moves to revoke Singleton’s charter this school year, it could still face closure after students leave for summer break in 2022. The F-rated school is in the final year of its charter contract. Due to its poor academic rating among other issues, the school is one of six in the district undergoing a comprehensive review, in which the superintendent and his staff take a deeper look at its performance before deciding whether to allow it to remain open.
The district is expected to announce charter renewal decisions for those six schools at the November Orleans Parish School Board meeting mid-month.