by Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writer
August 07, 2012
About 230 students at Crestworth Learning Academy will spend much of the first semester of the coming school year 4.5 miles away at Glen Oaks Middle while state officials who took control of Crestworth work to correct fire code issues and tackle other repair needs.
Kizzy Payton, a spokeswoman for the Recovery School District said the state assumed control of the middle school on July 1 and decided later that month that it would not be ready in time for the first day of school Wednesday. In addition to the repairs, she said, the RSD also is dealing with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills left behind by the former charter school’s board of directors.
State officials did not make a general announcement about the temporary relocation, until The Advocate contacted the school Monday.
Payton said RSD began calling parents individually about the change starting on July 31, opting not to provide notice through the media.
A Scotlandville-based community group, Community Against Drugs and Violence, however, says it wants to know more about what is going on at Crestworth. The group has called an “urgent” community meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Scotlandville branch library to discuss the issue.
“My first information came last week when people started to call and I thought we’ve just got to get some answers,” said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who helped organize the meeting. She noted that some of the people who need to know what’s going on don’t have working phones.
She said she got involved because she will soon be representing part of Scotlandville as a result of redistricting.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said RSD followed state law and requested a fire inspection soon after taking over the building, and a fire inspector found major problems after visiting on July 6. The middle school has broken exit doors that are chain-linked shut and a combination fire-and-smoke alarm system in need of repair, Browning said.
“Chaining doors in schools is a big no. There have been many documented incidents of people being trapped in buildings when there’s a fire,” Browning said. “It’s one of the top violations that we look for.”
An inspector returned to the school Monday and found nothing had changed since the July 6 inspection, Browning said.
An estimated 230 Crestworth students probably will spend two to four months at Glen Oaks Middle, which has 270 students of its own, Payton said.
Payton said the Glen Oaks campus has a capacity of 900 students, and the two schools will occupy different parts of it. Crestworth will start and end school an hour later than Glen Oaks, and the children will eat lunch and use the gym at different times, she said.
Payton said the delay in opening Crestworth was also due to a number of bills left unpaid by the former charter school’s board of directors, including an $18,000 bill with Entergy.
Patrick Dobard, RSD’s superintendent, said repairs can’t begin until the school gets the power turned on in its name. The account is still in the name of the charter school’s board, which was led up by members of nearby Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, he said.
“We don’t want to get halfway through and have the power turned off on us,” Dobard said.
Dobard said his staff is in talks with Entergy in hopes the energy giant will not force RSD to pay the bill before putting the power in RSD’s name. Dobard rejected the idea of paying the bill, and then seeking repayment from the former charter school.
“We haven’t made a habit of paying the bills left by the schools we take over,” Dobard said.
Dobard said he is not sure of the scope of work planned or the cost of the repairs that are needed, saying his office is still getting price quotes from repair companies. He said he also does not know yet how much debt Crestworth’s charter board accrued.
Dobard said even without the fire code and problems with unpaid bills Crestworth, getting the old middle school open by Wednesday wouldn’t have been easy.
“It would have close to a no-go,” he said.
He said leadership of the two schools are working together closely.
Bringing students from different Baton Rouge middle and high schools onto the same campus has prompted occasional conflicts in the past.
In September 2008, Glen Oaks Middle students got in a lunchroom brawl with students from nearby Prescott Middle school that prompted a visit from law enforcement.
Both schools were run by the now-defunct charter school group Advance Baton Rouge, which eventually ran five schools. Earlier this year, RSD assumed control of those five schools.