A Texas-based charter school group is close to acquiring 10 acres of LSU property in the Gardere area to serve as the home for one of its two planned charter schools in Baton Rouge, but the process is taking so long that the school may spend some or all of its first year elsewhere.
Ken Campbell, executive director of IDEA Public Schools in Louisiana, said the deal may still come through early enough to construct a school in time for the planned August 2018 opening date, but the window is closing, he said.
“We are exploring alternate locations for a year or for perhaps six months,” Campbell said.
A nationally prominent charter school organization setting up shop in Louisiana is already w…
IDEA and the nonprofit group, New Schools for Baton Rouge, first approached LSU nearly a year ago about leasing the property. New Schools recruited IDEA and is offering the Rio Grande Valley-based group financial support.
But after lengthy discussions, LSU is going a different route.
The LSU Board of Supervisors agreed on June 22 to part with the vacant property entirely via a sale or through a land swap. The board gave LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander until July 21 to figure out which approach would work better.
The plan is for LSU to transfer ownership of the property to New Schools’ "school construction arm", NSBR Facilities Inc., which in turn would enter into a lease-to-own agreement with IDEA.
Dan Layzell, LSU executive vice president and chief financial officer, told The Advocate that leasing the property didn’t make much sense given what IDEA plans to build there.
“We thought about it, but decided against it given that they were going to be building a permanent structure there and it was going to be a school facility rather than like a general office building,” Layzell said. “In our mind it made sense to just do a direct transfer of the property.”
The property, located in LSU’s Innovation Park next to The Emerge Center, has already been appraised twice and a third appraisal is underway as the parties seek to reach a consensus on the property's value.
The first appraisal, commissioned by LSU, valued the property at just over $2 million. A second appraisal, paid for by New Schools, put the property’s value much lower, at $1.25 million.
Layzell said he expects to receive the third appraisal any day now. Once the appraisal is in hand, he said, the discussion will shift to whether a sale or a swap makes more sense.
One problem with a sale is that state law requires the proceeds from a land sale go to the state treasury, not to LSU, and there’s no guarantee LSU could get the money back, Layzell said.
If LSU elects to go with a land swap, New Schools would have to purchase land to swap with the university of similar value that the university is interested in acquiring for itself. Supervisors on June 22 were shown a plot of land on West State Street, valued at $1.8 million, next to the university as a possible piece of land to swap.
Chris Meyer, chief executive officer of New Schools for Baton Rouge, said the property on West State Street is not the only possible land New Schools could buy and swap. And the land purchased depends on the results of the third appraisal; a bigger number could force New Schools to find a higher value piece of land, he said.
IDEA, which started in the Rio Grande Valley, runs 51 schools and educates 30,000 children and has schools that have made national best high school lists. All of its schools so far are in Texas, in the Rio Grande, Austin and San Antonio areas.
In May 2016, IDEA won approval from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board to start up to four charter schools in the Capital city, starting with two in 2018 followed by a third in 2020 and a fourth in 2021.
Almost a year after agreeing to the idea in principle, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Bo…
IDEA has already settled on property next to Cortana Mall for its north Baton Rouge location.
The charter school group plans to grow until it has K-12 schools divided between an elementary “academy” and a secondary “college.” IDEA’s agreement with EBR allows IDEA to enroll as many as 6,144 students and state law would allow them to enroll another 1,228.
A charter school is public school run by a private organization via a charter, or contract. IDEA will not be the only charter school in Innovation Park.
The Emerge Center, formerly Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation, is setting up a charter school of its own on property it already leases next door to where IDEA wants to locate. The school is growing out of a small private school Emerge launched in 2014, and construction is set to start in 2018.
Emerge’s new charter school would focus on children ages 5 to 11 who are on the autism spectrum. It plans to open in fall 2018, the same time as IDEA, and start with 38 students, eventually growing to about 140 students.
Campbell, IDEA's executive director, said he’s been discussing with Emerge leaders the possibility of teaming up in the future, perhaps in easing the transition for such students to more traditional classrooms.
“There is a genuine desire on both sides to get something done that’s beneficial for kids,” he said.