The Jefferson Parish School Board voted for the second time Wednesday night to allow Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy to add high school grades, provided it takes steps to increase its enrollment of minority and at-risk students.
But as the dust settled at an emotionally charged meeting that drew more than 100 supporters of the charter school, academy officials said it was not entirely clear what the second approval in less than a month means for their expansion plan.
The School Board first approved the plan in December, several months after school system officials said the academy had not done enough to ensure its population matched that of the parish system as a whole.
That approval came before several new board members took office after the fall elections, shifting the balance of power on the body from business-backed members to a union-backed faction.
Members of the new board majority characterized Wednesday’s vote as a noncontroversial, technical measure to formally ratify a contract that former board President Mark Morgan had signed with the school.
Kenner Academy officials and the families of some students of the school, however, worried the board was trying to rescind that agreement. And some board members suggested the contract approved Wednesday, which differs from the version originally approved, was a way of undermining the agreement.
That was not the intent, board President Cedric Floyd said.
“This is what was approved by the board on Dec. 17,” he said.
Officials with the school said they would have to review the new document and speak with the school system to ensure that is the case.
“We think substantially they’re basically the same,” said Lee Reed, the charter school’s attorney. “But we don’t know what the interpretation would be.”
The two agreements differ primarily in that the first version includes specific steps the school will have to take to improve its enrollment of at-risk and black students, while the new version includes broader language that only references the plans put forward by the school.
The potential confusion led school head Patty Glaser to ask the board not to take any action.
“If the new contract has the same information as the old contract, why change it?” she asked. “We urge you to stay with the contract that is already in place.”
At the same time, a parade of more than a dozen parents of students in the school begged the School Board to do whatever was needed to allow the expansion to go forward.
“This school was the answer to what our community needs,” Elizabeth Adams said. “Please consider the expansion and continuing to allow this school to prosper.”
The crowd cheered loudly as various board members proposed various options — some of them contradictory — that they said would allow the expansion.
The new contract was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Larry Dale opposed and Morgan absent. Dale, who had voted for the original agreement, said he felt the school system already had a binding contract and that the new contract would violate that and open the board to lawsuits.
But board attorney Mike Fanning said it was not clear the original contract was valid. The reason: Even though it was signed, it hadn’t been ratified by the board, members said.
The original agreement was approved by an 8-1 vote, with Ray St. Pierre voting no. St. Pierre said Wednesday that he did so because no specific contract was put before the board at its December meeting.
But board member Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, whose district includes Kenner and who has fought for the expansion, said there was no need to change the contract other than to give it the new board’s stamp of approval.
“I don’t see any reason to change anything except instead of President Mark Morgan it will be President Cedric Floyd,” Denapolis-Bosarge said.
In the end, St. Pierre argued that Dale and others who questioned the second approval would be standing in the way of the charter’s expansion into high school and going against the wishes of the crowd.
“So what have you got? You’ve got an expansion,” he said to a cheering crowd.