Orleans Parish School Board unsuccessful so far in luring Recovery School District charters back _lowres

Coleman Ridley

If the Orleans Parish School Board wants to draw academically successful charter schools back into its folds, those sought-after schools have a bit of advice: Polish your sales pitch, and explain what’s in it for us.

The board of Crescent City Schools, which operates three charter schools in New Orleans, last week chided an OPSB official, saying he should have made a harder sell — and then voted to keep its schools in the Recovery School District.

Lagniappe Academies, which operates a single charter in the city, said essentially the same thing last week before voting unanimously to keep its school under the RSD as well. Lagniappe was the eighth board with a school eligible to return to OPSB oversight to decide against a transfer.

So far, 15 of 36 eligible charter schools will stay put for the 2015-16 school year under the RSD. The rest have until Jan. 5 to decide.

Eligible schools were notified in early November that they could make the move, and some have been doing some comparison shopping. They aren’t impressed with what the OPSB has to offer.

Charter boards have voiced plenty of concerns about the local agency — mainly its lack of a permanent superintendent and its fractious board.

Orleans Parish Assistant Director of School Performance Sean Perkins was at Crescent City’s board meeting to field questions. It’s a thankless job that has taken on overtones of a pitchman; he stops just short of asking what he needs to do to get you to sign up.

“So what, if any, benefits exist?” board member Coleman Ridley asked.

Perkins responded by saying that if the school transferred to OPSB control, it could have access to shared services, professional development and seven locally elected school board members.

But without an OPSB superintendent in place, Crescent City leaders couldn’t see a reason to switch. Especially when the network is eligible to transfer only two of its schools.

Perkins faced a similar crowd at the board meeting for Lagniappe Academies.

One member asked why the School Board wanted charters back.

“You are no longer a school that is in recovery,” Perkins said.

He was pointing out the Recovery School District’s roots as a state-created entity designed to improve schools academically and then return them to their local districts. However, a 2010 state-level policy change allows charters to decide when or if to transfer; it’s not an automatic return process.

“One of things that we’ve struggled with for a while now is facilities,” member Dan Forman said.

Lagniappe owns modular buildings that sit on a leased lot on the 1500 block of St. Louis Street. School leaders want to remain in the area but their lease is up at the end of the year.

Perkins said the district could offer no guarantees on a building or space. And he made clear that the switch was “not a business deal,” but about educating children.

Lagniappe voted unanimously to stick with the RSD.

Perhaps board member Dan Henderson best summarized the mood of local charter boards considering the switch: “Nobody likes change except a wet baby.”