Ten groups have submitted charter school applications to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board seeking to open as many as 15 new schools but there is one notable no show: Tucson, Arizona-based BASIS Schools.
The charter management organization has been courting Baton Rouge leaders for more than a year with plans to launch two schools in the capital city, with the first one opening in fall 2017, as well as plans for a third school in New Orleans. A few BASIS schools have been recognized as some of the highest achieving in the country and its students have scored among the best in the world on international standardized tests.
Peter Bezanson, chief executive officer of BASIS.edu, which oversees the network’s 25 schools, said Monday that as the March 4 application deadline approached, the organization decided to postpone applying for a year, meaning its first school won’t open until 2018 at earliest.
“We decided let’s back off and try to really submit the best possible application we could,” Bezanson said.
The main problem was a change in who the group planned to seek a charter from. It had planned to apply to New Schools for Baton Rouge, the nonprofit group that recruited BASIS. New Schools applied late last year to become what’s known as a “local charter authorizer,” which would have allowed it to also approve schools it had recruited.
New Schools opted to withdraw its application in January under fierce political opposition from traditional public school advocates. The advocates’ hand was strengthened by the landslide Nov. 21 election of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is a charter school skeptic.
The alternative left for BASIS is to apply through existing channels, namely applying to a local school district for what’s known a Type 1 charter.
If the local school district, in this case East Baton Rouge Parish, rejects that application, the applicant can appeal to the state for a broader Type 2 charter, which allows a school to draw students from across the state. A charter school is a public school run by a private organization.
The latest batch of Type 1 applications comes as the East Baton Rouge Parish school system works to close a looming multimillion-dollar deficit, which school officials blame in large part on the money it is required to redirect to charter schools. School leaders have become increasingly critical of charter schools in recent months.
In other states where BASIS operates, the organization has obtained charters from a state entity rather than going through a local school district. In Baton Rouge, the organization had not prepared the ground sufficiently to pursue a local Type 1 charter, Bezanson said.
“We want to really understand the relationships we would have to build,” Bezanson said.
Chris Meyer, president and chief executive officer of New Schools for Baton Rouge, said facility concerns were a big factor in the decision by BASIS to delay. The organization has been working with a company, which Meyer would not identify, to form a public-private partnership to build a school, but that partnership is not yet complete and any school would not be complete until 2018 at earliest, anyway.
Bezanson also said facility concerns are a factor and that BASIS avoids opening a school until its facility is complete.
New Schools for Baton Rouge has recruited or offered financial support to six of the 10 groups that have submitted Type 1 applications.
Four of the six are school groups that already have charters, but they have facility concerns leading them to seek other options, Meyer said.
Three are small homegrown charter schools that all operate now at the former Glen Oaks Middle School in north Baton Rouge. The fourth, New Orleans-based Collegiate Academies, has a charter to open a school in Baton Rouge, but has yet to do so.
The School Board has until June 2 to approve or reject them.
Meyer said he’s talking with East Baton Rouge school officials about an array of options ranging from leasing other East Baton Rouge schools, working together to build new schools to selling land for charter schools to build schools.
Meyer also noted the school system has as many as 63,000 seats available, but is using only 42,000, if you count former school buildings turned into administrative and other offices.
Adonica Duggan, a spokeswoman for the school system, said officials are considering facility ideas submitted by charter school advocates, but other things have to be settled first.
“We are currently revising our pupil-to-teacher ratios, and evaluating the district’s most efficient use of sites,” Duggan said.
Duggan said the school system has additional capacity, but the numbers are smaller than what New Schools is saying: Nearly 51,000 seats available versus 42,000 occupied.
She added that some programs use more space than others.
“Programs like Montessori, gifted, pre-K and special education all have different class size requirements,” Duggan said.