State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson

The long-sought goal of reunifying New Orleans public schools under an elected board is well under way, but it comes with an obligation: Vigilance is required from voters.

The new School Board being elected this year includes four members already chosen, either unopposed or because opponents withdrew. Three other seats remain to be chosen on the big Election Day on Nov. 8.

In every case, though, voters have a touchstone about how to choose wisely. That is the platform of a coalition of education and civic groups, Forward New Orleans for Public Schools.

Four years ago, the coalition’s initial platform played a role in transforming the debate about the direction of public education. Through accountability and school-level innovation at charter campuses, New Orleans’ students have achieved significant gains in achievement.

This year, the platform is drawing wider participation among civic and business leaders, because of the larger context of a reunification plan established in state law under a bill authored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. Among the groups involved are the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, Common Good, 100 Black Men, the Young Leadership Council and many others.

The reunification statute and the goals of the Forward New Orleans platform work together, creating a framework for a new board to oversee the “portfolio” of charter schools that constitutes today’s system. This is something entirely new for public education, not just in New Orleans but in the nation: A board and superintendent promoting accountability and achievement through its interaction with independent schools, instead of treating campuses as cogs in the larger school system machine.

Progressive governance, by any standard, but the Forward New Orleans plan includes a long list of key goals for action, including not only continued academic achievement but “fair and open access to diverse and high quality public school options.”

A lofty goal is that the new board will provide a moral leadership in the community to promote public education that some felt missing under the old Recovery School District, mandated from the state. But that will depend on a board and superintendent that will sketch out new roles, avoiding micromanagement at the school level and divisive internal politics of the past at the board level.

We see the willingness of a broad coalition of community organizations to support this new model as part of a foundation for success, but that depends on voters questioning candidates in this election about their commitment to the platform, and how new board members plan to implement its recommendations.

Issues of the budget and chronic deficit spending must be addressed, as well as potential conflicts among charter schools that might come up in the future.

There is a big role for the School Board under the new system, although a different approach than in the past. But the vital importance of voters choosing wisely has not changed.