Advocate file photo

The International School of Louisiana board of trustees has voted to not recharter its Jefferson Parish campus, leaving hundreds of parents unsure about their children’s educational future.

The campus, at 8101 Simon St. in Metairie, in the former Bunche Middle School building, is chartered through June. School officials announced their decision to close the campus at a special board meeting Friday evening before a crowd of more than 30 parents. The school has more than 400 students. 

Melanie Tennyson, CEO and head of school for ISL, said the decision came after months of failed attempts to communicate with the Jefferson Parish School Board.

ISL submitted requests to recharter the Simon Street location in October and again in November, and it made several attempts to correspond with the School Board, to no avail, Tennyson said.

“Despite all the efforts made by charter management organizations, ISL advocates and the board of trustees, the Jefferson Parish School Board has still not offered any assistance or use of another vacant site,” Tennyson said.

School officials tried to find their own facility but had no success, Tennyson said.

Not only is the Jefferson school without a facility for next year, but it lacks confirmation from the School Board on rechartering. The campus is also running a $650,000 deficit, Tennyson said.

“Through conservative and careful consolidation, we hope to get it down to $450,000 by the end of the school year,” she said.

More than half of the crowd expressed frustration with the decision, and several said they felt disappointed that the board acted before the parish School Board meets in February. The future of the Jefferson campus had been uncertain for about two years, but parents said they were always told there would be a facility available.

Katie Reine, parent of a first-grader, encouraged the board to hold off voting until the parish board itself shuts down the school. “We can keep fighting and we shouldn’t give up hope,” she said.

Chantell Reed, the ISL board of trustees president, said the lack of a building and of a new charter agreement aren’t the only reasons for the campus’ shuttering. The school has been running at a deficit for four of the past five years, which is a “major consideration” for school officials, Reed said.

The Jefferson Parish School Board had told ISL two years ago that it did not intend to renew ISL’s lease for the Bunche building. ISL asked to be allowed to use the building for one more year while it continues to search, but it did not receive any response.

“We have been working up until the ninth hour, and we are out of time,” Reed said. “We need to make a decision to give you, and us, time to plan.”

Students from the Jefferson campus will be given preference if they choose to move to any of the three ISL campuses in Orleans Parish: the newly leased Bethune building in Hollygrove for grades K-2, the Camp Street campus for grades 3-8 and the Olivier campus in Algiers for grades K-5.

The school will not provide transportation for Jefferson Parish students, Tennyson said. She said busing can cost $400,000 a year.

Michael Pedalino, a board member, proposed a motion to give parents a week to find a way to keep the campus open. “You’re putting your kids at risk, but if y’all feel that y’all can come up with an idea, that y’all have some bite in you, then I’m willing to give you a week,” he said.

That motion was opposed by the rest of the board, and a second motion to not renew the school’s charter was passed unanimously.

The Jefferson Parish School Board initially planned to vote on ISL’s rechartering at its January meeting but pushed the vote to the February agenda. Many ISL parents said they still plan to go to the board's January meeting to voice their frustrations about the rechartering delay and the lack of help in finding a facility.

The board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 501 Manhattan Blvd. in Harvey.

Reine said she understands why the board voted to shutter the campus but was surprised at the “finality” of the decision.

Still, she said she plans to send her first-grader son to one of ISL's Orleans Parish schools next year. ISL students learn to read and write in Spanish or French, rather than English. When those students transfer to a non-immersion school, they are generally behind their classmates in English but far ahead in a foreign language.

Because of that delay, Reine said she’s “stuck” with an immersion-school for the next few years.

ISL officials will be offering help during the transition, Tennyson said.

Tennyson said losing the Jefferson campus “is really sad.”

“This was a wonderful community of people,” she said. “But I need you to trust that we made the best decision for this school and our students."