Six weeks before it’s set to open, organizers of a career- oriented charter school said they want to locate it on Capitol High Academy’s campus — and, in exchange, are willing to operate both schools.
Career Academy officials plan to ask for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s blessing Monday to move the charter school from Brookstown Elementary to the Capitol High campus.
Capitol High is now under the control of the Louisiana Department of Education. It has less than 300 students on a campus that can accommodate 1,000 students.
In a “status report” sent to School Board members on Wednesday, the marriage of the Career Academy and Capitol High would have the following features:
One principal, Pam Mackie, but the state would hire a director to oversee the Capitol High portion of the school.
The parish school system, the state and Career Academy would strike a partnership.
The two schools would have separate budgets, but might share some expenses, including the cost of faculty.
The report also notes that Capitol High has much to offer a career-focused school, including an automotive repair shop, a welding shop, a carpentry and building shop, facilities suited for culinary and hospitality classes, and greenhouses.
John White, the superintendent of the state-operated Recovery School District, said recently that bringing in Career Academy may only be a one-year proposition.
He said the plan is to work with community groups over the next year to find a viable solution going forward.
“It’s fair to say that our sense of urgency is very high that we have to get this plan approved and get to work,” White said.
Nancy Roberts, director of the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, which has spearheaded the Career Academy, said on Friday that the new charter school had only 81 of its 200 slots for ninth- and tenth-graders filled.
Roberts said some students have shied away because they’re reluctant to go to a former elementary school campus, and they also want the sports and extracurricular activities offered by a traditional high school, activities that Capitol High offers.
She said she needs the board to give its blessing for her to proceed with the shift to Capitol High.
“We need to get out of there with some kind of endorsement, one way or another, on the plan,” Roberts said.
That may not happen.
“Right now I don’t think there’s a single School Board member who wants a two-headed monster at Capitol,” said School Board member Craig Williams, whose District 6 includes Capitol High.
Williams held out hope that an acceptable compromise can still be reached. He said he’s been having conversations over the past few days with people interested in the issue.
Williams, who joined the board in January, said the discussions have been marked by mistrust between state and East Baton Rouge Parish school leaders.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and the state to get together and bury the hatchet,” Williams said.
The hatchets were first pulled out in 2008 when the state Department of Education took over four low performing schools in Baton Rouge, including Capitol High, and turned them into charter schools.
A year later, relations became even more strained when the state took over four more low performing schools and turned them into charter schools.
Those schools have not done well as a whole, and Capitol High in particular has lost academic ground compared to where it was before the takeover. It’s also continued to lose students — its last official enrollment count in February was 281 students
In recent months, East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent John Dilworth has tried to persuade state leaders to allow one or more of the schools taken over by the state to revert back to local control — with possibly a memoranda of understanding that would give the state some continuing say in the direction of the school.
Those discussions, however, failed to bear fruit.
At the same time, 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, which holds the charter for Capitol High Academy, has parted ways with EdisonLearning, the for-profit school management company that operated the high school since summer 2008.
The Career Academy may have the legal authority to relocate to Capitol High without the School Board’s blessing.
Barbara Freiberg, School Board president, said Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school, is continuing to research the issue.
Freiberg said she was assured by a member of the Career Academy board that the school won’t make a move the School Board is opposed to.
“I still have a great deal of concern,” Freiberg said. “I haven’t been persuaded that this is the best thing for the interests of the students at this point.”
The School Board will meet Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.