Two more Recovery School District charter schools chose this week to switch to the Orleans Parish School Board, raising the total of schools returning this year to five and demonstrating increasing faith among charter operators in the local school district’s new leadership.
The latest schools to switch are Fannie C. Williams Charter School in New Orleans East and Mary D. Coghill Charter School in Pontchartrain Park. Their boards decided Monday and Tuesday to return if the School Board offers them acceptable contracts.
They join Lake Area New Tech Early College High School in Gentilly, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School in Mid-City and KIPP Renaissance High School in Bywater, whose governing bodies earlier voted to return to the School Board.
Should the charters and the board reach accords, all five schools will return to the OPSB fold July 1.
The additions will widen the footprint of a school district that had most of its schools snatched away by the state after Hurricane Katrina amid dismal academic performance and widely reported mismanagement.
Only two dozen New Orleans public schools today are under the authority of the School Board. The Recovery School District, created in 2003 to seize failing schools and turn them around, oversees many more.
Under state policy, a charter school’s independent board can decide whether to stay with the RSD or return to the OPSB after it meets certain criteria.
This is the second year that a school has chosen to return, though some have been eligible to do so for years. The first to leave was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School, which joined the School Board last year.
Eligible schools must have operated in the RSD for five years and scored at least 54 — or 4 points above the failing bar — on the state’s 150-point academic scale for two years.
Though schools’ daily operations will be largely unaffected even if they choose to switch, educators who decided against the move in the past were turned off by the local board’s checkered history, its members’ frequent bickering and other problems. Most remain wary even today.
However, since new OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis took office a year ago, many charter leaders are warming to the idea, even those who decided this year to stay put.
What changed things for Coghill, board President Keith Barney said, was the “ability to negotiate.” The Coghill board’s vote Tuesday was contingent on entering negotiations with the School Board on its property insurance rates, which are higher for School Board charters than for Recovery District charters.
The state district’s rates are lower because it benefits from the state’s greater purchasing power, officials said. Other schools also have made their return conditional on that point, though it is not clear how much the local board will be able to reduce its rates.
Also driving Coghill’s decision is a push by some state lawmakers to force schools back under the local board, Barney said. A bill was introduced last year to force a wholesale return. It failed, but state Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, has pledged to revive it.
“We want to go back now under our terms, instead of their terms,” Barney said.
Lewis, who made his case before Coghill’s board ahead of its vote, smiled broadly after the decision was made.
In an earlier statement after Fannie C. Williams School’s vote, he called the switches a “milestone” for the School Board.
“We appreciate the confidence displayed in our administration by this governing board, and today, celebrate the successes and achievements of its students,” Lewis said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.