Charter school plan rankles Iberville school superintendent

The construction of what is expected to become the first charter school in Iberville Parish has the parish’s school superintendent on edge and voicing concerns about what he sees as a potential threat to the public school system.

“It’s an intrusion on our local rights and tax money,” Superintendent Ed Cancienne said Wednesday about the construction of Iberville Charter Academy.

Cancienne made the comment a day after The South Louisiana Charter Foundation Inc., the company managing the new charter school through a partnership with Charter Schools USA, hosted an informational session for interested parents Tuesday night at the Iberville Parish Library.

The school kicked off open enrollment Feb. 1 to fill spots in its inaugural class when it opens its doors in August.

Shortly before Tuesday’s information session started, Cancienne sent out a letter to parish residents that he said was to clear up any confusion that the new school was affiliated in any way with the Iberville Parish school system.

In the letter, Cancienne assured residents the new charter school won’t derail the school district’s ongoing efforts toward improving academic excellence.

“I just had to give clarity,” Cancienne said Wednesday. “If parents feel there is another choice, people will try that choice. I’m just disappointed in the state superintendent and state board (of education) for not recognizing the success we’ve had over the last year before they imposed this school on us.”

In August 2013, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized South Louisiana Charter Foundation to launch up to two “Type 2” charter schools in school districts in the Baton Rouge area that were graded D or F in the annual district performance report issued by the state’s Department of Education.

Type 2 charter schools are self-governed public schools independent of existing public school districts. They must obtain BESE’s approval to operate after an application and review process.

When South Louisiana Charter Foundation’s application was approved, the Iberville Parish school district had a D grade from the Louisiana Department of Eudcation. When the department released school performance scores in October 2013, Iberville Parish had inched up to a C grade for its districtwide score.

“I should have been called up to Baton Rouge if there were issues with our school system,” Cancienne said. “I’ve gotten calls from parish government officials that this was likely the way things were going and they feel we don’t need this right now.”

Iberville Charter Academy isn’t the only school The South Louisiana Charter Foundation and Charter Schools USA will launch this year.

In August, the companies plan to open South Baton Rouge Charter Academy in East Baton Rouge Parish as well.

The Iberville location will enroll 434 students in its inaugural class of kindergarten through sixth grade to attend classes at the 36,773-square-foot facility under construction near Belleview Drive and Enterprise Boulevard in Plaquemine.

The school will add seventh- and eighth-grade classes in the subsequent years after its opening.

The charter school is using private financing to build the $9.5 million state-of-the-art campus, said Colleen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Charter USA.

Once opened, money for the school’s operations will come from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program which annually allots a certain amount of money to local schools on a per child basis.

That is money that would otherwise go to the public school district if students remained enrolled in its schools.

Charter school officials said all students will be accepted unless more students apply during open enrollment than the 434 seats that are available. Should more than that number apply, officials said, the foundation will hold a random lottery to select the school’s first students.

Two more information sessions about the charter school are set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and March 11 at the Iberville Parish Library.

The foundation is hoping to pull its enrollment from the local population, said Richard Page, executive vice president of development for Charter Schools USA, but he added the school is accepting applications from students in surrounding parishes.

“There’s a lot of industry there, and a high degree of commuter traffic,” Page said. “We will get the word out to employers that this option is now there for their employees who work in the parish but don’t live there. Some parents like the idea of taking their child to school while they’re coming to and from work.”

According to the school’s website, the curriculum at Iberville Charter Academy will be aligned with Common Core Standards geared toward college readiness.

Page said the tuition-free school’s success will depend heavily on parent involvement.

“This board has a vision: to really build a network of charter schools around the Greater Baton Rouge area,” Page said. “The idea is to bring high-quality educational solutions to places where there aren’t that many options for schools of choice.”