CLINTON — Facing at least 100 angry Slaughter Community Charter School supporters who wanted to talk numbers, the East Feliciana Parish School Board folded up and went home after members could not agree on an agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
The move, unprecedented in at least a 30-year period, revolved around a dispute over the number of students the School Board will allow the charter school to enroll in the contract year that begins July 1. The Slaughter school, grades seven-12, is a Type 1 charter school, affiliated with the local School Board. The school has asked for state approval to become a Type 2, or state chartered institution.
The failure to officially meet after 20 minutes of wrangling left undone several important items, including appointing an interim member to fill the seat left vacant by the death of member Broderick Brooks Sr., who was gunned down May 23 in his car in Baton Rouge.
The impasse also halted a move to set a Nov. 8 election to fill the remainder of Brooks’ term in District 2. June 22 is the deadline for calling the special election, and the board is required to name an interim appointment by Monday, District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said.
The board also couldn’t adopt revisions to the current year’s budget or adopt a budget for the coming school year.
Clinton board member Richard Terrell began the aborted meeting by moving to adopt the agenda as printed, except for striking an item proposed by Slaughter member Tim Corcoran to discuss the maximum number of students the board will allow the charter school to have.
Corcoran followed with a substitute motion to delete appointing Brooks’ interim successor from the agenda, and Melvin Hollins offered another substitute motion to accept the agenda as printed.
Corcoran’s motion to delete the appointment failed, with Corcoran, Mitch Harrell and Paul Kent supporting it and Rhonda Matthews, Terrell, Ron Thompson, Joyce Kent, President Michael Bradford, Hollins and Beth Dawson dissenting.
Hollins’ motion to accept the original agenda failed, with Hollins and Dawson supporting it.
Bradford attempted to limit discussion on a procedural motion, but D’Aquilla suggested the board needed to hear from members and the public because Terrell’s remaining motion effectively would change the agenda.
“Let’s deal with this. We could settle this tonight,” Paul Kent said, and Corcoran said the public needs to be heard on the enrollment issue, rather than going into executive session to discuss the figures.
Superintendent Carlos Sam said his intention is to continue negotiating with the charter school board and suggested holding a special meeting within the next week.
But the meeting dissolved when Terrell’s motion to accept the agenda with the charter enrollment discussion removed failed on a 5-5 tie vote.
Matthews, Terrell, Thompson, Joyce Kent and Bradford voted for the motion, while Harrell, Paul Kent, Corcoran, Hollins and Dawson dissented. Board member Derald Spears Sr. was absent.
After discussing the impasse briefly with D’Aquilla, Bradford announced that the meeting was over and left the room. Seven members remained for about 30 minutes to hear from the Slaughter parents and supporters.
Corcoran told the remaining members the board is running the risk of the charter school getting a state charter.
“If that happens, it doesn’t bode well for us,” he said.
Because the school has a Type 1 charter, the parish board is authorized to take 2 percent of the state funding that flows through the board to the Slaughter school. The parish also gets to include the school’s performance score in the overall parish score.
If the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves Slaughter’s Type 2 proposal, the parish would have no affiliation with the charter.
The board has not discussed the contract in public, but charter supporters said Sam is attempting to hold the enrollment at 292 students, which the charter board said is not enough to repay a federal loan needed to build permanent classrooms for the school.
Construction is on hold because of the dispute.
The charter has agreed to accept 292 the first year and gradually increase the number to 321 by the 2019-20 school year. Because state law allows charter schools to exceed the enrollment by 20 percent, the figures would actually be 350 to 385 in four years.
The school has 349 students signed up for classes in August, charter board member Chrissie O’Quin said.
BESE member Jada Lewis called the impasse “disheartening” because she said negotiations were ongoing.
“I wouldn’t want 30 kids to divide the community,” Lewis said, adding she will support the transition to a state charter.
“We have to put kids over politics,” Lewis said.
“It’s about personal egos and personal feelings,” supporter Adam Peters said. “We’re not asking for anything new. Just keep your word.”
Charter board President Glen LeDoux said his board has spent $35,000 in attorney fees fighting the board over the enrollment and length of the charter.
“I know you’ve spent that much. As a taxpayer, I’ve got a problem with that,” LeDoux told the remaining parish members.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on June 8, 2016, to note that board member Mitch Harrell was among the board members voting in support of board member Tim Corcoran’s motion to delete the appointment of an interim board member and that board member Melvin Hollins was among those voting against the motion.