The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday postponed for two weeks deciding whether to approve the creation of a second charter school in Baton Rouge that would be modeled after Inspire Charter Academy, which opened its doors in August 2010.
A 20-member team of school system administrators recommended earlier in the week rejecting the application for the new charter school proposed by the Michigan-based National Heritage Academies.
But School Board members agreed unanimously to put the vote off so they’d have time to gather more information.
“I want to give it further consideration and do it with a lot more backup that we have here,” said board member David Tatman.
Tatman specifically asked for a copy of a report evaluating the proposal that was prepared by a team from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
The proposed second charter school is called Empower Charter Academy and is modeled after Inspire.
Inspire, located at 5454 N. Foster Drive, had 506 students enrolled Wednesday and has a maximum capacity of more than 700 students.
Empower Charter Academy has a similar growth plan, and would start with an enrollment of 480 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade and then add one grade at a time until it reached the eighth grade.
After its first year of operation, Inspire earned a school performance score of 64.2, which is an “F” in the state’s new letter grading system.
Chief Academic Officer Herman Brister said Inspire is showing promise, but that it’s premature to create a second school modeled after it. He also said he and other school administrators wanted more information from National Heritage Academies.
“We could not find anything bold and innovative that we are not already employing in our schools,” Brister said.
Sister Judith Brun, president of Inspire’s School Board, said she was more disappointed than anyone about Inspires’ “F”, but she said she has data showing substantial growth of the children at the end of the last school year compared to where they were at the start of the year.
“Growth is what you really need to look at,” said Brun, who is best known as the former longtime principal of St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge.
East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President Barbara Freiberg said she was torn.
She said she’s visited Inspire and likes what they’re doing at the school but is hesitant to create another charter school which will cost the school system more money.
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said that creating a new charter school in the current tight budget situation, would force the school system to cut expenses elsewhere.
With a $6.2 million first-year operating expense, Fletcher said that adding a new charter could force up to 80 teachers elsewhere in the school system to be laid off — if that’s how the board tried to make up for the loss of revenue.
After the meeting, Brun did not challenge the idea that Empower would involve an extra cost for the school system.
“But they need to balance that out with what they gain from us,” she said.
If the board follows the administrative recommendation and rejects the application, National Heritage Academies can take its proposal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In other business, the School Board after a lengthy debate postponed in a 9-1 vote until at least January making improvements to classrooms on the second floor of Istrouma High. Only board member Vereta Lee voted no. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith was absent.
Istrouma High School is a possible target for state takeover if the school system can’t persuade the state to renew a memorandum of understanding it has to operate the school.
The classroom renovations were postponed because of some board members’ concerns about who is going to be the next state superintendent of education and several board members said they wanted to know whether Istrouma High School will be taken over by the state.
Superintendent John Dilworth urged board members — without success — to go through with the $586,000 in renovations to the high school. He noted that Istrouma’s performance score improved by 9.1 points last year.
“These are boys and girls who live in our city and they deserve to live in an environment where the walls are not falling down on their heads,” Dilworth said.