Proposed operators can apply to BESE
LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board rejected charter school applications by two groups Wednesday, setting the stage for the groups to apply to the state education board to operate a different type of charter school in the parish.
The board discussed the issue for more than an hour before the vote, with only two members, Kermit Bouillion and Mark Cockerham, voting to approve the charter school applications. Board members Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Shelton Cobb, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle and Rae Trahan voted against. Board member Tehmi Chassion abstained.
Moments before the board’s vote, Mary Louella Cook, president of the Lafayette Charter Foundation, appealed to the board to support her organization’s plan to educate students in the parish.
“We want to work with you,” she said.
Prior to the board’s vote, Margaret Trahan, executive director of the United Way of Acadiana, encouraged the board to support the Type 1 charter the two groups were seeking because it provides more choice related to the school system’s relationship with the operators.
“The charter movement, whether we like it or not, is at our door,” Trahan said.
The applicants have said that if the board rejected their applications, they’d appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as a Type 2 charter.
Charter schools are independent, public schools that are publicly funded. Type 1 charters are overseen by local school district boards and receive public funding from the district, just as though they were any other public school. The local school district also negotiates a contract with Type 1 charters to set performance guidelines for the charter.
Type 2 charters are overseen and funded by the BESE, and the local school district has no say in the contract performance requirements.
The applications considered Wednesday were from two groups.
Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies, in partnership with charter management company National Heritage Academies, proposed one K-8 grade charter school for August and another K-8 school in 2015.
Lafayette Charter Foundation, in partnership with Charter Schools USA, initially proposed one K-8 school for August but recently pushed up its timeline and committed to two K-8 schools by August. One was to be located in Sugar Mill Pond; the other in Couret Farms, a neighborhood now under development in north Lafayette.
Lafayette Charter Foundation’s application also included a high school by 2017.
Superintendent Pat Cooper asked the board to approve the applications, which he has said will help low-performing students in north Lafayette and alleviate overcrowding in the Youngsville area. Mayors and councils in Broussard and Youngsville also formally have supported the charter schools to address rapid growth in south Lafayette.
Board member Hunter Beasley questioned whether the charter schools could fulfill the charter school law requirement that 85 percent of enrollment include at-risk students.
“When you have somebody in Sugar Mill Pond or in north Lafayette around the area between I-49 and University (Avenue) … I’m just curious how that 85 percent is going to be attained,” Beasley said.
The law allows a 5 percent variance and the charter schools would market to at-risk populations, said Jay Augustine, Louisiana director of charter school development and legal affairs for Charter Schools USA.
Board member Mark Allen Babineaux asked if the schools could enroll students at D or F schools who make Ds and Fs.
The charters schools aren’t allowed to ask questions related to the child’s former school or the grades they received, said Megan DeKraker, a director of new charter school development with National Heritage Academies.
Representatives of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators and the State of Greater Black Lafayette stated their opposition of the Type 1 charter schools during the board meeting.
Retired Lafayette Parish school teachers Mary Washington and Pat Sonnier asked the board to reject the applications based on the diversion of public funding that would be directed to the schools.
“You should not be giving away local dollars when in fact you don’t have the money to take care of the issues that you have today,” Washington said.
Some objections over the charter schools were tied to finances and operation by out-of-state charter school operators.
Later, Gifford Briggs, secretary of the Lafayette Charter Foundation, said, “That’s not what matters. What matters is the education that our children receive. What is wrong with giving a parent a choice? Parents can have a choice … If you don’t want your kid to go to school at a charter school, then don’t send them.”
Before the board voted, parent Ann Burruss reminded members that it’s not inevitable that the charter schools will be approved by BESE and asked that they consider the wishes of the voters they represent.
“That is not a guarantee,” Burruss said. “There are definitely parents who are willing to work to see that type 2 (charters) do not come, if that’s what the parish wants.”