The closing of North Iberville High School in 2009 was a bitter pill for parents and community leaders who sued the Iberville Parish School District in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the school open.
Now, they’re using a different approach to achieve essentially the same objective by applying to open a new charter school somewhere in the northern part of the parish.
But getting the School Board and Superintendent Ed Cancienne to authorize opening a Type 1 charter school is likely to prove an uphill battle, given their aversion to charter schools.
“We already anticipate he would never recommend to the board to approve it, yet we have to go through that channel anyway,” said the Rev. John Jordan, senior pastor at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Maringouin. “But we’re not here to please him (Cancienne). We’re trying to take care of our children.”
The Louisiana Department of Education requires new start-up charter schools to first apply for a license as a Type 1 charter, which requires the approval of the local school board.
If an application is denied, a group can appeal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and apply for Type 2 status, which can be approved by BESE.
BESE has approved applications that have been denied by districts six times since 2012 out of 35 appeals made to the state board, according to Louisiana Department of Education officials.
Jordan, who will serve on the governing board of the proposed charter school in north Iberville, said the closing of the high school in that part of the parish forced students to endure hourlong bus rides daily to attend Plaquemine High — the district’s lone traditional public high school.
Jordan and members of his group say the nearly 75-mile round-trip bus rides across the parish have negatively impacted student performance for children living in his community.
“When I hear how early our students are getting up to catch the bus and how late they’re getting home, it’s very demanding on those young kids,” Jordan said.
Last week, the School Board was informed that Jordan’s group had submitted an application to open a seventh through 12th grade charter school that would be called C.S. King College Preparatory Academy.
The application says the school will use a blended learning model that incorporates the use of technology to increase student achievement. It includes a proposed first-year budget of approximately $2.3 million based on a projected enrollment of about 250 students.
That figure is based on the proposed school receiving $8,787 per student through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program — money that would be subtracted from the state and local dollars the school district annually receives if the charter school opens.
Cancienne said he had hoped the district’s plan to launch a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics program in the fall on the old North Iberville High campus would have satisfied the community’s desires to see another community-based school.
The program is geared toward the district’s higher-achieving students with a 3.0 grade-point average and average and mastery or advanced scoring on state assessment tests.
“It’s a great program to start in north Iberville where there is a need for college and career readiness,” Cancienne said. “They’re going to have an experience there that makes them strong, independent learners.”
The tension over charter schools has a lot to do with money.
Last year, the school district had to give up $3.7 million in MFP funding to the Iberville Charter Academy, a Type 2 charter school that opened in August 2014.
The Iberville Parish School Board joined the Louisiana Association of Educators in a lawsuit that sought to block the state Education Department and BESE from diverting revenue away from the school district and transferring it to charter schools.
However, a state judge ruled in May that charter schools approved by BESE are clearly public schools and that BESE and the state Education Department were within their rights to support them with the use of public funds.
Given the recent court ruling and the state’s fondness for the charter school model, Cancienne says he’s concerned BESE could approve another charter school in the parish over the School Board’s objections.
“The state board seems to approve these programs so quickly, without proper investigation or exploration and without seeing how things are going in a school district,” he said.
Jordan said he understands the vision Cancienne has for the STEM program in north Iberville but believes many students in that area would be getting shortchanged because they wouldn’t qualify for admission.
“When I read the requirements and the demographics that would be served there, that school does not really meet the needs,” Jordan said. “I don’t feel our kids should be overlooked from going there because they don’t meet those high standards.”
Board member Pam George, who represents the north Iberville community, said she understands the parents’ concerns over long bus rides to Plaquemine High. But George views the opening of the STEM program at North Iberville High as a step in the right direction toward giving the children in the community a closer option for education.
George hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll support the effort by Jordan’s group to open a new charter school. She said there are still too many unanswered questions.
The School Board has hired a third-party company to review the group’s application and deliver a report before the board makes its decision in July on whether to approve the charter school.
The application only touches on general concepts in terms of curriculum. There is no mention of where the school would be located and no indication money will be allocated to build a new facility.
Jordan said the group already has invested money in hiring experienced educators to shape the proposed school’s academic program.
“We are very serious about the efforts,” he said.
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