New Orleans — Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy, Martin Behrman Charter School and O. Perry Walker College and Preparatory High Schools will not be returning to Orleans Parish School Board governance, as decided in a 5-2 cast by the board at an Algiers Charter School Association meeting Thursday.
D’Juan Hernandez and Stephanie Bridges were the only two board members to vote against the schools remaining with the Recovery School District. The only ACSA board member not present was John Edwards.
All eligible schools — 14 in total — are required to report their decision to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by Monday.
OPSB Superintendent Stan Smith said that as of Thursday, none of the schools had reported that they would be returning to local governance.
Smith was the last of the public speakers at the meeting before the vote. He began his comments by saying that the OPSB does not agree with the process for returning but that the legal battle to fight it will take time.
Stan said the OPSB believes that, according to the way the law is written, when schools are eligible they should automatically return to the local board.
Smith praised the ACSA for soliciting input from the community and encouraged them to listen.
But before casting his vote against the return, Colin Brooks told the audience that he thinks the schools should and will return, but that “I don’t think the time is right.” Brooks cited the Legal Educational Authority (LEA) status as a significant issue he would like to see resolved.
Smith said the LEA issue was a primary recurring issue. Smith said that charter schools have expressed concern that they will lose too much of their autonomy with the loss of their LEA. “Our charters do have autonomy,” Smith said, of the 11 current charter schools under OPSB governance. “They have autonomy in how grant funds are allocated and how they are spent. We don’t believe the framework destroys autonomy.” Smith said the OPSB provides oversight to make sure the grants are spent in accordance to set guidelines.
Walker teacher Rob Corvo, who has expressed the collective desire of the Walker faculty to return to the OPSB at every public meeting, took his two minutes to say that it was not about the particulars of returning, but about the “grave concern” that the same opportunity to escape the designation as a “recovery” school may not exist next year.
“Every time the Walker community can do something to solidify our position as a premiere school in the community, we will take that opportunity,” Corvo said.
With a return to the OPSB, “We know we will have a place at the table,” Corvo said.
At the beginning of the meeting, Adrian Morgan, ACSA interim CEO, praised Walker students for their ACT scores.
“We are the ones who do the work you thankfully lauded us for today,” Corvo said. “When the time comes to act, act on what you’ve heard.”
W.M. Zanders asked the board to do the right thing in returning the schools to OPSB, and reminded members that they were supposed to act in the best interests of the schools, and not the other way around.
Newly elected OPSB member Leslie Ellison said that the OPSB wants the schools to come back. For one, Ellison said, that it is simply not true that the OPSB will keep money that is designated for the schools. Ellison also said that the OPSB is talking with the Department of Education, and the LEA issue will be worked out in the next legislative session.
People in her district, which includes Algiers, want to return to local control because they know they will be dealing with publicly elected board members who are accountable, as opposed to dealing with governing bodies “far removed from the community,” Ellison said.
Because of a number of changes going into effect next year, including the mandatory ACT tests and core curriculum, Ellison echoed Corvo’s point that the same opportunities may not exist next year.
“Seize the moment — it’s here,” Ellison said. “Waiting another year will not be a benefit for the kids or for the community.”
Carol Edgar-Lang, a Behrman grandparent and former principal in Algiers public schools, told the board that the community, parents, faculty and staff of Behrman give a “resounding yes to return to the Orleans Parish school system.”
Behrman and Eisenhower were eligible to return last year, and despite a petition to return with 500 signatures from Behrman faculty, parents and community members, the ACSA voted not to let them return.
“Do not turn a deaf ear to our pleas and our requests that we return,” Lang said. “Please do not hold them hostage.”
But despite those please, Behrman, Walker, and Eisenhower will remain in the RSD.
“This should not be a debate,” Eric Jones said. “We should be celebrating that these schools have met the legal requirements to return. Our children deserve better.”
Smith encouraged the board to “ask any of our 11 charters. They have autonomy, and they also have the support of the OPSB.”
But under the current system, Smith acknowledged that ultimately, the decision falls with the ACSA board members, who are not elected by the community.