Taylor presents ‘Innovative Schools’ plan to EBR board

Initiative would create autonomous alternatives to charter schools

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor told the School Board on Thursday he hopes to solicit proposals to create new schools in order to head off growing competition from charter schools and avoid a future “tipping point.”

“If we don’t do something different, we’re either going to be out-competed, or we will financially fall apart,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he’s concerned that charters schools are eating up an increasing share of his funding, potentially at the expense of day-to-day operations, and he needs to develop a viable, affordable alternative. He estimates the system will have to increase payouts to outside charter groups running Type 1 and Type 2 charter schools by $28 million in the next fiscal year, which is roughly double what he’s paying such organizations now.

The alternative, which Taylor presented Thursday, is something he’s calling “Innovative Schools.” He said, unlike most charter schools, he wants school ideas that are not just “more of the same.”

Taylor did not ask for a vote Thursday. He said he’s still developing the initiative.

He said he would have to return to the board to approve potential management contracts with applicants judged worthy.

“I wish we could have done this years ago, before this monster called the RSD was ever created,” said board member Tarvald Smith, referring to the state-run Recovery School District.

Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith was more cool to the initiative. She questioned the need for it, given all the other changes going on in public schools .

“I would like to see something succeed before we move, move, move and we change, change, change,” Nelson-Smith said.

Innovative Schools would function much like charter schools. Like charter schools, they would be public schools run by private organizations. They would have autonomy over instruction and picking their teams.

Unlike charter schools, they would be obliged to pay for school system services such as food and buses, as well as contribute to the teacher retirement system. And rather than starting small with new students, these educators would move into existing schools and work with students already there.

Those two factors mean these schools will get roughly the money that traditional schools receive and they would pull students, and consequently money, away from other traditional schools and prompt budget cuts.

“You would pay them a management fee for what they do,” Taylor said.

The schools would have nine-member advisory boards, but three members would be chosen by the school system.

Also, any proposals would have to get vetted by parents and community leaders in the affected communities via special “superintendent advisory councils.”

Taylor said the request for proposals is open to teachers, administrators, national education management organizations, current school leadership teams and nonprofit organizations from Louisiana and nationwide.

He said he wants proposals from groups with research to back up their claims, a track record of success, willingness to work with the budget limits that other parish schools operate under, but most importantly, to do something different from the status quo.

Taylor’s request for proposals seeks to fulfill four purposes: turning around A-, B- or C-rated schools, particularly schools in decline; blending online instruction with traditional classroom instruction; infusing art throughout the curriculum; and adding career- or technical-focused education.

Kimberly Williams, a school system consultant, said she would lead up the recruiting and shepherding of the proposals. She described the initiative less as another way of doing charter schools and more as a way for educators to be free from some of the burdens charter school operators have.

“There are people with programs who don’t want to do the back-office stuff,” Williams said.

Taylor said he’s already had extensive talks with the Children’s Defense Fund to persuade the group to try out its literacy-based Freedom Schools summer and after-school programs and apply them as full-time programs in a school. He said if a group can get a program up and running by August, he’ll consider it — but a fall 2015 start date is most likely.

East Baton Rouge Parish is home to 14 charter schools, and several more are starting in Baton Rouge and in the surrounding area in the fall. Most were approved by state leaders over local objections.