School Board to keep tax rate

NEW ORLEANS — The Orleans Parish School Board decided Tuesday not to take any action to reduce its millage rate, which the board had voted to roll forward in May.

The board also approved two new charter schools and denied the application of another.

The millage will remain at the maximum rate, despite the initial property value assessment estimate being significantly lower than the latest assessment numbers. The “do nothing” decision will increase the estimated revenue from approximately $120 million to $124 million. The board had anticipated about a 1.5 percent increase in property value assessments, while the actual increase was about 3 percent.

Other options, as outlined by board President Thomas Robichaux, would have been to roll it back to the intended level or to leverage neutrality. Robichaux said the board wanted a transparent process, making sure there was no perception of “trying to bamboozle the taxpayer.”

Representatives from education advocacy groups, charter school operators and the Recovery School District all spoke in support of leaving the millage rate as is — mutually expressing a critical need for as many dollars in the classrooms as possible.

The first charter school application approved was for InspireNOLA. Edna Karr Charter High School and Alice Harte Charter Elementary school will move from the authorization of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Algiers Charter School Association to a single InspireNOLA board with the OPSB as the authorizer.

A spokeswoman for InspireNOLA told the board that throughout the application process, the organization worked with leadership at the two West Bank schools and were impressed by the shared vision and commitment to excellence in education.

Kathleen Padian, OPSB deputy superintendent for charter schools, said that as is, the two schools report to three different sets of board and thus a solution was sought to simplify the schools’ governance. A representative from the ACSA spoke in support of the decision and assured a smooth transition for 2013.

The board also approved the charter application of Bricolage Academy, a new operator, which plans to open a school in 2013 with a focus on engineering to prepare students to, according to the organization’s website, to “build, invent and design for tomorrow.”

Bricolage does not yet have a location, and is not guaranteed a space because it is a Type 1 charter, defined as a brand-new charter. Padian said the group is looking at properties in Uptown on St. Charles Avenue, as well as in other neighborhoods.

The board voted to deny the application from the OPEN School. When asked the reasons, Padian said she, as well as a third-party evaluator, saw several problems with the application. The charter’s operators expressed a need for additional time and resources and an interest in possibly applying next year. They were not present at the meeting to contest the denial.

Another approved agenda item transferred tax credits to the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary school from the RSD. Dana Peterson, spokesman for the RSD said he supported the transfer, which would increase the available funds by about $1.5 million. The school, on which construction began last week, will have a tremendous impact on Treme neighborhood, Peterson said.

Several people took the opportunity to thank the board members for their service, as about half of the incumbents were defeated in the recent election.