The Orleans Parish School Board voted last week to allow the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans, a French-curriculum charter school, to buy the former Alfred C. Priestley school campus in West Carrollton, despite protests from an activist group and legal claims by a private developer.
Before the School Board even announced this summer that it would be putting Priestley up for sale, Britt Gondolfi and the P-Town Project had been advocating for transforming it into a nexus of social-services providers and business incubators. With a final vote by the School Board on Lycée’s purchase offer looming last Tuesday, the group reiterated its concerns that the French curriculum would make the school inaccessible for neighborhood children, and that it would contribute to a larger pattern of rising rents and home prices that are driving black residents from the area.
Neighbors and Lycée supporters, however, countered that the services being sought by the P-Town Project already are being offered by a trio of new community centers on the Leonidas corridor: Community Commitment, which is already open and led by longtime organizer Nicole Bouie; the Leonidas House project being developed by Tillman Hardy; and the new headquarters being opened by Trinity Christian Community.
Developer Neal Morris, of the firm Redmellon, meanwhile, reiterated arguments he made earlier before the School Board’s Property Committee — that state law governing the disposition of surplus school properties is ambiguous and that his $551,000 offer should have prevailed over Lycée’s bid of $425,500 for the site. If the board was unwilling to award the school to him, Morris said, it should at least seek an attorney general’s opinion clarifying whether the law truly gives charter schools exclusive first rights to vacant properties.
Otherwise, Morris has said, “as the high bidder, I will certainly have standing to sue.”
Attorney Bill Aaron told the board, however, that the statute requiring school boards to offer vacant facilities to charter groups is specific enough that it would prevail over more general processes for auctioning off other public property.
“If the gentleman wants to participate and compete against a charter school, he has to be a charter school,” Aaron said. “He cannot just be a developer trying to get site control.”