EBR charter schools win approval

A committee of Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday authorized up to 10 new charter schools for East Baton Rouge Parish during the next two years amid continuing debate about their value.

Tia Fulghum, the mother of a second-grader at the state-run Dalton Elementary School, urged officials to back the additions as a way to stabilize classroom operations.

Fulghum said Dalton has had five principals in five years. “It is very bad for parent and student morale,” she said.

Before that, Fulghum said, her daughter and one other student in a parish preschool class of about 25 were the only ones who could write their names at the end of the school year. “That was very disappointing to me,” she told the panel.

Others disagreed.

“What makes a charter setting more effective than a traditional setting?” asked Lottie Beebe, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who lives in Breaux Bridge.

“I just don’t get it,” Beebe added later.

Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards. They are supposed to offer innovative alternatives to traditional public schools without much of the red tape.

The charters authorized on Tuesday are mostly aimed at the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone, which is the site of seven troubled public schools in north Baton Rouge.

Precise timetables were not available.

However, officials said, Tuesday’s action could pave the way for up to four more charter schools in East Baton Rouge Parish for the 2014-15 school year and five or six more the following year depending on building availability and other issues.

That would roughly double the current tally of parish charter schools.

Louisiana has about 120 charter schools in the current school year. About 58,000 students were enrolled in 2012-13.

The charter plans were approved by BESE’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee.

All 11 board members attended and full board approval is expected on Wednesday.

Some of the charters approved on Tuesday involve startup schools or traditional public schools that are being overhauled.

Others entail the takeover of schools now under the state-run Recovery School District, which means the schools have had academic and other problems for years.

The committee approved seven charter management firms that were recruited by New Schools for Baton Rouge, which was formed in 2012 as part of a bid to upgrade struggling public schools in north Baton Rouge.

That list includes Celerity Educational Group, which is based in Los Angeles; Democracy Prep Public Schools, based in New York City and Family Urban Schools of Excellence, which is based in Hartford, Conn.

State Superintendent of Education John White opted not to recommend a charter to run a school now in the RSD by the group that runs J. K. Haynes Elementary Charter School.

White said while that school’s performance score has risen 10 points in the past five years “it has been a little up and down” and taking over a troubled school poses more challenges than starting a new one.

Nelson Taylor, chairman of the school’s board, said J.K. Haynes has a proven track record.

“We can do this,” Taylor said. “All we are asking this board to do is give us a chance.

“If we don’t make it you can take it back,” he said.

White said the board may take another look at the group’s proposal at its October meeting.