Most of the five remaining traditional public schools in New Orleans will be staying traditional — at least for now.
A group led by the schools’ own principals and school district staff, under the name ExCEED Network Schools Charter Management Organization, applied earlier this year to turn all five of them into charter schools, a step that would have made New Orleans the first all-charter city in the country.
New Orleans schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was supposed to make a recommendation to the Orleans Parish School Board on Thursday about whether to allow the takeovers.
Instead, Lewis said Wednesday afternoon that ExCEED had pulled its application.
The schools in question are Benjamin Franklin Elementary, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Bethune Elementary, Eleanor McMain Secondary School and McDonogh 35 Senior High School.
ExCEED's bid had already come into doubt after a consultant hired by the board declined to endorse the group, questioning whether it was ready to operate the schools independently.
Charter schools are publicly funded but are run by private nonprofit groups. They must answer to government bodies for their academic, financial and organizational performance. As long as they meet those targets, they have broad authority to set educational methods and priorities.
There have been signs that ExCEED’s effort to charter the schools was rushed. ExCEED didn’t register as a nonprofit with the state until 10 days before it officially notified the district that it wanted to operate the five schools.
Questions about who would lead the organization and who would sit on its board were left unanswered for weeks. Some remain unanswered, such as who wrote the charter applications for each school.
The group also encountered ethical questions.
The woman hired to be ExCEED’s CEO, Nicolette London, had been serving as the official in charge of overseeing the district’s traditional schools until a few days before ExCEED submitted its application.
Generally, public employees aren’t allowed to leave their agencies and then sign on to do the same work as a contractor within two years of stepping down. They also must wait two years before working for an outside group if they dealt with that group in their public job.
District officials said they established legal and ethical safeguards by cordoning off central office staffers involved with ExCEED. However, the school district did not seek an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics, which regularly gives public employees guidance on how the law applies to particular situations.
In the meantime, one of the five schools in question — McMain — is likely to get chartered by a separate group called InspireNOLA. The School Board approved that application Thursday evening.
InspireNOLA already runs several highly regarded schools, and McMain alumni who spoke at a public meeting last week voiced support for that group taking over the school's management.
The district has also decided to close Mahalia Jackson Elementary at the end of the 2017-18 school year because it’s not meeting enrollment goals, although it’s still possible that a charter could take it over instead. The board deferred action on that issue Thursday.