Orleans School Board backs bill to let charters remain local education agencies

The Orleans Parish School Board on Tuesday night addressed one of the reasons charter schools cite for hesitating to return to School Board authority: the desire to keep their status as a local education agency.

The School Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of House Bill No. 661, which would allow eligible Type 5 charters that vote to transfer from the Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board to retain their local education agency status if they so choose.

When the 13 Recovery School District charter schools eligible to return to the School Board voted prior to a Jan. 7 deadline, local education agency status was a sticking point for many concerned about losing financial autonomy.

The status allows schools to directly draw down federal entitlement money and keep administrative fees.

No schools thus far have returned to the Orleans Parish School Board since the Recovery School District took over the district’s failing schools in 2005.

In December, the staff and parents of Martin Behrman Charter School Academy of Creative Arts and Sciences and O. Perry Walker College and Career Preparatory High School pleaded with their charter operator, the Algiers Charter School Association, to return to School Board authority.

The Algiers Charter School Association voted not to allow them to return.

Association board President Colin Brooks said if they were to return, the schools would no longer be their own legal entity and might not retain the same legal protection over surplus funds.

The new bill would give charters the option to choose, said Kathleen Padian, deputy superintendent of charter schools for the School Board.

There are advantages to the School Board serving as the local education agency, she added; it is able to ensure all funds are spent in accordance with federal guidelines.

When it comes to expenses such as serving students with special needs, Padian said the School Board has a central office that can provide shared services between multiple schools.

By law, each individual charter must provide services to every child.

If the bill, which has not yet gone to committee, passes, it will create a new type of “3B” charter school, giving schools the option to retain their LEA status for all funding purposes.