Scottsdale, Arizona-based BASIS Schools won a provisional operating contract Thursday that will allow it open for students in 2018 and is hoping to finalize the document no later than July 31.
“The contract must be concluded by the end of the month so that we can secure funding to build our facility,” DeAnna Rowe with BASIS said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted 6-0 to finalize the contract. Board members Dawn Collins and Vereta Lee abstained. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith was absent.
Charter schools are public schools run by private groups via charters, or contracts.
In May, the board granted a charter to this high-powered group whose high schools in Arizona routinely land on national best high school lists. Recruited by the nonprofit New Schools for Baton Rouge, BASIS plans to create a school from kindergarten through 12th grade that would grow to almost 900 students.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said BASIS is operating on an accelerated timetable and this contract is being worked out faster than other charter school contracts he’s negotiated. He said there are two remaining areas, but he hopes to have things worked soon.
“I hope to get this done this weekend,” Rutledge said. “I’m traveling but I’m bringing my laptop.”
BASIS plans to build a campus on the property of Woman’s Hospital as part of a corporate sponsorship arrangement with the hospital. Children of hospital employees, in turn, will get first dibs on up to half the seats at the school.
When it was debated in May, BASIS sparked criticism about the potentially low percentage of disadvantaged children who would enroll at the schools. Rutledge acknowledged this is an area still being negotiated as well as the performance objectives BASIS will have to live up to.
BASIS’ application estimates that only 20 percent of those students will come from poor backgrounds, sometimes called “at risk,” which would make it one of the most affluent public schools in the state.
State law requires that Type 1 charter schools like BASIS need to get close to the “at risk” population of the districts that charter them. In East Baton Rouge Parish, that means at present more than 70 percent of these schools' students should come from poor backgrounds. All Type 1 charter schools in Baton Rouge easily meet that threshold.
BASIS’ use of a corporate partnership makes meeting that state law somewhat easier. The 2011 corporate partnership law exempts children of Woman’s Hospital employees from the “at risk” requirement. The remaining 50 percent-plus children at the school, however, still have to meet the "at risk" threshold.
The draft version of the contract the board looked at Thursday allows the school system to require BASIS to complete a corrective action plan if it falls short in this area, as well as in its enrollment of special education students.
In other action Thursday, Superintendent Warren Drake rolled out a new organizational chart in which he plans to have two associate superintendents and a new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction handle most of the duties that used to be handled by one person, recently departed Deputy Superintendent Michelle Clayton.
“Formerly it was all together, which was quite a task for one person,” Drake said.
Adam Smith is one of the associate superintendents. Drake still needs to hire an additional associate superintendent and an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Drake said he decided to go that route in part because of recent decline in test scores in many grades on spring standardized tests. Drake noted that about half of the schools were affected by flooding either because of facility damage or because they took in students from flooded schools.
“I do want everyone to know we had a really challenging year,” Drake said. “But we’re not going to use it as an excuse. We’re going to use it as a reason to get better.”