A Jefferson Parish School Board member whom some parents have accused of trying to harm one Kenner charter school told a roomful of business leaders Friday that he’s been pegged all wrong.
Marion “Coach” Bonura, part of a group of board members who were elected in 2014 with the backing of the parish teachers union, came under scrutiny last month after a parent of a Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy student took a picture of him in a Kenner coffee shop with a school system official.
The parent, Emily Fulgham-Clay, did not record the conversation but claimed that the two were plotting Kenner Discovery’s demise.
Bonura said Fulgham-Clay misrepresented his conversation with Jefferson school system charter liaison Jeannine Prejean.
On Friday, he repeated those sentiments.
“The Kenner schools are a problem. ... Our middle schools and our high schools are not the top schools in the parish. I’m smart enough to understand that,” he said.
“I’m also smart enough to know that that’s why we needed that charter in Kenner,” he said. “I think Kenner Discovery was important to Kenner … and if people think I’m against that school, you’re wrong.”
His comments at a business breakfast came after Kenner real estate developer Henry Shane — who serves on Kenner Discovery’s board — pointed out population declines in Kenner over the past three decades, a trend he said has been slowing in light of recent school improvements.
Kenner Discovery is an A-rated open-enrollment school.
Lucien Gunter, manager of the Jefferson Community Foundation, which hosted the session Bonura and others attended, gave a response that drew chuckles.
“You made my day,” Gunter told Bonura. “I was little concerned ... because I thought you might have been (against) the Discovery.”
Bonura said he is in favor of all schools doing well enough to earn A and B state letter grades.
Fans of virtual, charter schools feeling better
The leader of the Louisiana arm of a national school choice advocacy group is heartened that a push backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to curb charter schools’ growth was largely stymied in the state Legislature last week.
Christin White-Kaiser, the state leader of PublicSchool Options.org, a parent coalition that supports charter schools, online schools, magnet schools and other school options, said attempts by lawmakers and teachers unions to curb school choice are wrongheaded.
“We are pleased that these bills went nowhere fast, and we hope that legislators heard parents’ messages loud and clear: Choice in education matters,” Kaiser said.
The bills at issue, House Bill 879 and Senate Bill 149, would have banned the for-profit operators that manage a small number of charter schools statewide — including the virtual charter school that Kaiser’s daughter attends — and cut two major virtual charter schools’ funding by half.
The two charters are the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy and Louisiana Connections Academy, run by for-profit managers K12 Inc., of Virginia, and Connections Education, of Baltimore.
The Louisiana School Boards Association supported the bills, and the for-profit ban, proposed by Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, was on Edwards’ legislative agenda.
The governor also has backed bills that would limit voucher eligibility to students attending schools graded D and F and would stop the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from overriding A- and B-rated school districts’ denials of new charter applications, among other things.
However, Bouie withdrew his bill for fear that it would be rejected, while a Senate panel shelved the charter school growth restriction bill on Thursday.
Edwards has said the new charter rules would restore local control and that C-rated schools — which are considered average but not failing — shouldn’t be voucher-eligible, while Bouie, in committee, called charters a “state-sanctioned experiment” that is hurting, not helping, children.
Compiled by Jessica Williams.