A coalition of local civic groups that has pledged to keep an eye on the city’s School Board gave board members a mixed progress report on Wednesday.
Forward New Orleans Public Schools offered praise for some of the board’s most important votes over the past two years but pointed to stalled or nonexistent progress on some fronts.
It chalked up three major accomplishments for the Orleans Parish School Board: a formal agreement with the state-run Recovery School District, which took over most city schools after Hurricane Katrina, on sharing revenue and providing key services; a new maintenance fund that will pay for long-term upkeep of the city’s new school buildings; and the gradual adoption of a new central enrollment system, known as the OneApp, at more of the board’s schools.
On the other hand, the group pointed out what it considers to be some major deficiencies in board policy. For instance, the board still does not have what the group refers to as a “school quality policy,” which would govern how the district evaluates the performance of both its charter and traditional schools.
There has been some progress on laying down new rules for how charters are renewed, monitored and, if need be, closed, the report said. “Unfortunately, we have not seen similar progress on a policy for the OPSB’s direct-run schools,” it said.
The group’s report urged the board to cement its commitment to the OneApp in official policy, although board members already have voted to fold most of the schools under their purview into the new enrollment system. A handful of the board’s charter schools have so far refused to join the system, but board policy says they must do so whenever they have to seek a formal renewal of their charter to keep operating.
The civic review group also wants formal policies drawn up on everything from long-term strategic planning to the way the board spends its roughly $50 million in reserves, asking that board members commit to using the extra cash equitably.
Forward New Orleans — based on a similar coalition focused on the mayor and City Council — was formed ahead of School Board elections in 2012, interviewing most of the 15 candidates for seven board seats and asking for pledges on half a dozen key priorities.
It is led by the New Orleans Business Council but includes a wide range of other local groups, including the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League and EducateNow!, a nonprofit run by former state school board member Leslie Jacobs, who was a key voice in shaping the group’s priorities.
It came about in part because more of the schools that have been under the state-formed RSD’s watch for the better part of a decade have improved enough to come back under the local board’s control, though few have decided to do so.
There have been mixed signs lately about whether local residents or officials trust the board enough to resume its pre-Katrina role as the governing body for all of the city’s campuses. A recent poll suggested that voters are split on the issue.