Board makes charters participate

At the year’s final meeting for the sitting New Orleans Parish School Board, the board approved multiple amendments, including items requiring charter schools to participate in the universal enrollment process and adding stricter policies on bullying.

Several construction contracts were also approved.

Much of the meeting’s discussion was devoted to the universal enrollment, or OneApp, process. Many who spoke expressed doubt that the program was serving all children equitably. Others said too many questions remained and the language was not clear enough to move forward. They pressed, unsuccessfully, to defer a vote.

The OPSB schools that are not direct-run are allowed to opt out of OneApp, but the School Board has encouraged all charters to participate. The traditional OPSB schools will be required to start participating next year.

The first amendment passed will require all new charter schools to participate in “any single application, common enrollment, and common expulsion and suspension processes or policies” by the 2014-2015 school year. The new charter school contracts that will be affected are the Bricolage Academy, Alice Harte Charter Elementary School and Edna Karr Magnet School.

The second amendment related to the OneApp process will require charters to participate in the “single application, common enrollment, and common expulsion and suspension processes or policies” at the time of the renewal of their contracts.

However, some charter schools will not need to renegotiate their contracts for close to 10 years. The amended policy will go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year. The dates of renewals vary with each charter school, and some argued to defer the vote so that it could be changed to require charters to participate sooner, before their renewals.

Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said that he encouraged a single application that would ensure equity for all children in all schools and to avoid a culture where “who you know and the connections you have” play a part in getting into public schools.

Education activist Katrena Ndang said that the OneApp had thus far been an “utter failure,” and that the RSD was attempting to pull the OPSB into a “bait and switch game,” intended to siphon students from the schools.

While the amendments and their implications were not entirely clear to many at the meeting, including the board members, OPSB Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Padian said that the changes are not immediate and that the board still has two years to “get it right,” and also will likely revisit the matter in the next few months.

Padian said that the OPSB has worked closely with RSD in learning what worked and what didn’t with their schools, all of which were required to participate beginning last year.

The goal is to make the application process simpler for parents, as well as bring transparency to the individual enrollment practices of all charter schools, including the ones with selective admissions, Padian said. The board assured parents that geography would play a factor for kids who wanted to stay in their own neighborhoods.

The board amended the Bullying, Intimidation, Harassment and Hazing Policy by requiring all school personnel to take action and/or report observed or reported bullying incidents. The teeth of the new policy, said board President Thomas Robichaux, adds a penalty for teachers and other educators who fail to report the incidents, which is “no less than a written reprimand and up to and including termination.”

The construction contract for the new McDonogh 35 High School, which was awarded to Citadel Builders in the amount of just under $55 million, was also discussed. One alumnus asked that the design of the building’s front be revisited because it looked too institutional.

The board also approved a contract for a new school at North Kenilworth, awarding the approximately $22.5 million contract to Woodrow Wilson Construction Company.

Before the meeting was adjourned, the outgoing board members thanked the public and their fellow board members. Lourdes Moran said it was an honor and privilege to serve, saying that since she was elected in 2005, she witnessed significant change.

Robichaux told board members who are staying on that many people are interested in seeing “this body fail,” and urged them to keep a watchful eye. Robichaux also said that the board’s accomplishments were no small matter, and that through trials, tribulations, accolades and insults, he was proud to have been a part. “We’ve given hope to an entity with no hope,” he said.

Brett Bonin wished the best to the other board members in moving forward, and said that he felt everything was moving “in a great direction.”

Superintendent Stan Smith presented the outgoing board members with crystal name plates and commended them for making decisions in the best interest of all.