Orleans Parish School Board hears from charter applicants before Tuesday vote

A third-party review group is recommending approval of a new Orleans Parish School Board charter school affiliated with SUNO and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. But some board members raised questions at a Monday public forum about the university's decision to partner with a for-profit company.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers recommended that the School Board deny the other three applications that made it to the final round. Representatives from all four school groups came to the forum to make their case for approval.

TMCF @ SUNO would offer a blended learning model that combines in-person and online classes, a model the review team praised. The founders propose to open next fall on or near the university campus with 225 students in grades six, seven and eight, expanding to a 625-student middle/high school by 2018. SUNO administrator and State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, is on the application team.

"A blended school is something new and we truly look forward to providing the opportunities," said SUNO Chancellor Gloria Moultrie, adding that it would make New Orleans "a part of what's happening globally."

Connections Academy, owned by Pearson, runs a Louisiana virtual charter school based in Baton Rouge and would partner with SUNO and TMCF in running the school. The review team said Connections Academy "is widely regarded as a leader." Connections would hire the school's principal but a local charter board would hire the rest of the staff.

Executive Vice President Mickey Revenaugh said Connections would charge $1,800 per student for its curriculum and learning-management technology. In addition, it would use about 10 percent of the school's incoming money for back-office services such as accounting and human resources.

But School Board member Sarah Usdin questioned whether that financial model would work here. "We're just not a very rich state," she said. Between state and local government, Orleans Parish School Board schools are likely to receive less than $9,000 per student in the current academic year.

Usdin also noted that most for-profit groups that ran charters in New Orleans have failed. The exceptions are Milestone SABIS, which moved to Jefferson, and the Crescent Leadership Academy, an alternative school.

Revenaugh said the local nonprofit board would have the option to come up with a different solution for the back-office services.

As for the other applicants, Smothers Academy would be an all-male pre-K-12 school led in part by a current administrator at Miller-McCoy, the city's only all-boy charter. The Learning Lab would tailor its curriculum to individual students in grades six-12. Cypress Academy would run a small K-8 program focused on students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

Kathleen Padian, deputy superintendent for charter schools, said school district staff would wait to make its recommendations until after the forum. The School Board is set to vote on the four applicants at its monthly meeting Tuesday and must legally vote by Oct. 10.

The vote comes as the city's two school districts -- the Orleans Parish School Board and the state Recovery School District -- are trying for the first time to map out how many charter schools the city should have and what academic programs they should offer. There are already more school programs than there are buildings in the school facilities master plan; two existing Orleans Parish charters, Encore and Plessy, are sharing space with Recovery School District counterparts.

The NACSA evaluation team consisted of Michael Buerger, financial consultant Ann Clayton Chamberlain, Amy McClellan and former School Board administrator Roslyn Smith, and was led by Mark Weinberg of the Michigan-based National Charter Schools Institute.

Orleans Parish Interim Superintendent Stan Smith said the district had not received a response to a request for an ethics opinion on whether School Board President Ira Thomas, a SUNO employee, had to recuse himself on the vote for that proposal.



Source: NOLA.com