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A year ago, ignoring complaints that it would blow a hole in future budgets, the East Baton Rouge School Board approved six new charter schools to open in the Capital City in time for the 2020-21 school year.

Now, with that school year two months away from starting, only one of those charter schools, CSAL Elementary, is moving forward as scheduled. And it’s looking to enroll just 80 students at first, about half as many as originally planned.

If all six new schools had opened as envisioned, they would have expanded the ranks of charter schools in the parish by 1,300 to 1,600 students, taking with them $12 to $14 million in state and local school funding.

Now that expansion has been put off at least one more year. Four more charter groups have applied to join them in opening charter schools in fall 2021.

The parish School Board plans to vote on their applications at a special meeting on July 9.

That may be a decision greatly influenced by the next superintendent. The board is interviewing finalists Leslie Brown of Fort Lauderdale and Nakia Towns of Chattanooga this week and plans to choose one of them on June 18.

Current superintendent Warren Drake is set to retire June 30 after five years at the helm.

In June 2015, during his first week on the job, Drake was faced with this same issue. He persuaded the board to reject all the charter school applicants.

Six months later, the state Board of Secondary and Elementary Education, or BESE, overturned the denials of Apex Collegiate Academy and Laurel Oaks Charter School. Both Apex and Laurel closed in May 2019 after three years in operation.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via charters, or contracts.

There are currently 27 charter schools operating in East Baton Rouge Parish. Collectively, they educate about 11,000 students. That’s almost 20 percent of all the public schoolchildren in the parish and more than double the market share charter schools had a decade ago.

Organizers of the five other planned schools have informed the parish school system that they plan to wait until fall 2021 at earliest to open. They include a second BASIS school in Baton Rouge, as well as two schools each by KIPP New Orleans and Baton Rouge-based Helix Community Schools.

BASIS and KIPP slowed their expansion plans awhile back as they tried to figure out where to locate.

Helix, best known for its downtown Baton Rouge high school, Mentorship Academy, was sticking to its schedule, but changed tack after the coronavirus outbreak arrived in March. Helix now plans to open its two new schools, Helix Aviation Academy and Mentorship Legal Academy, in fall 2021.

CSAL Elementary’s opening comes just as another small charter school closes. Children’s Charter, which opened in Baton Rouge in 1997, closed its doors last month at its campus located near downtown Baton Rouge. It had about 140 students enrolled last year.

Seven already operating charter schools, however, are planning to add grades and students this year as part of their growth plans. They are BASIS Baton Rouge, Collegiate Baton Rouge, The Emerge School for Autism, GEO Next Generation High School, GEO Prep Academy of Greater Baton Rouge, IDEA Bridge and IDEA Innovation charter schools. These schools added 1,100 students this past year.

It’s unclear whether they will be as successful in 2020-21. The coronavirus has complicated new student recruitment in general.

Tours of facilities, open houses and meetings with prospective parents were put on hold for months. Schools have largely shifted their promotional efforts online as they seek to rebrand themselves as schools that can handle the sudden preeminence of remote instruction.

CSAL Elementary — CSAL stands for Community School for Apprenticeship Learning — has been a long time coming. The homegrown charter network, CSAL Inc., which operates four schools, started with its middle school CSAL in 1997 and added a high school Madison Prep in 2009. The new elementary school, which is starting with grades kindergarten to two, will have fifth graders old to feed into the middle school by fall 2024.

The new school, however, will have a modest start. Instead of building a new facility right away, the network is currently installing three temporary buildings at its existing campus on Madison Avenue, north of the state Capital.

The latest charter school applicants submitted their application in early March, but due to coronavirus, the state has given the East Baton Rouge Parish school system an extra month to review them.

Mary “Katie” Blunschi, a former school administrator in Baton Rouge, has returned as the school system’s legally required outside evaluator and she and a team of school system administrators have scheduled interviews this week with the applicants.

If rejected, all four applicants have the option of appealing to BESE to obtain a Type 2 charter that would allow them to draw students from across Louisiana. Applicants that want a Type 2 charter, however, by state law have to apply first to the local school board, which could award them a limited charter contract that would restrict them just to students in the district boundaries.

Here are the four new proposed charter schools:

  • Louisiana Connections Academy. This virtual K-12 school would start with 500 students in 2021-22 and grow to 3,100 students by 2025-26. It’s the second attempt to revive Louisiana Connections Academy, which operated in Baton Rouge from 2011 to 2017. The School Board denied a similar application in May 2019. 
  • Louisiana Rebirth Blended Learning Academy. This virtual high school would start with 2,500 students in 2021-22 and grow to 3,500 students by 2024-25. It would focus on teenagers aged 16 to 22 who are on probation from either juvenile detention or adult incarceration. 
  • Pathways in Education-East Baton Rouge. This alternative high school would start with 300 students in 2021-22 and top out at 350 students the following year. 
  • Supreme Academy. This middle/high school would start with 300 students in grades 6-8 in 2021-22 and grow to 700 students in grades 6-12 by 2025-26. It is looking to use the former Camelot College on Airline Highway, south of Florida Blvd.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.