Local leaders split on school operators
LAFAYETTE — The two charter school applications rejected by the Lafayette Parish School Board last month may get a second chance at being approved.
The applications are headed to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval next week.
Last month, the School Board voted 2-6 when it rejected the request from Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies and National Heritage Academies to open two schools and an application from Lafayette Charter Foundation and Charter Schools USA to open three schools in the parish.
The board’s rejection allowed the groups to appeal to BESE to open as a different kind of charter — a Type 2 — which gives BESE control over the charter’s contract and opens enrollment to students statewide.
The applications will be considered by a BESE committee Oct. 15 with full board consideration of the applications Oct. 16. Louisiana Department of Education staff recommended that both applications should be approved, according to BESE.
However, some parents and at least one Lafayette Parish School Board member questioned whether the applications should be considered by the state because an August deadline for an appeal to BESE has passed.
The deadline was set in an agreement signed by Lafayette and the Louisiana Department of Education. The agreement states that appeals for Type 2 applications were due to BESE by Aug. 14.
School Board member Hunter Beasley requested the board’s attorney, Roger Hamilton, review the issue.
Hamilton, an assistant district attorney with the 15th Judicial District, declined to comment.
“If they didn’t meet the August deadline, then they should wait until the next cycle to go to BESE,” Beasley said.
Parents Kathleen Espinoza and Ann Burruss said the School Board didn’t make a decision before the August appeal’s deadline, and that’s what prevented the charter groups from appealing on time with the state.
“They’re not being held accountable to their own guidelines,” Espinoza said of the Louisiana Department of Education. “We just want a transparent and public process.”
The August BESE appeal date doesn’t take precedence over state law that gives local boards 90 days to make a decision on pending charter school applications,
The Louisiana Department of Education assistant superintendent for policy and governmental affairs, Erin Bendily, told the School Board last month during a workshop on the charter school applications.
Based on state criteria, the deadlines for the School Board’s decisions on the two applications was Sept. 26 for Lafayette Charter Foundation/Charter Schools USA and Oct. 21 for Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies/National Heritage Academies, according to Bendily.
Aside from the deadline issue, Espinoza and Burruss said they oppose the applications for several reasons, including lackluster performance within the operators’ current schools, and concerns that the schools will actually serve at-risk students because transportation won’t be available.
Both parents plan to attend the BESE committee meeting next week.
They created a Facebook page — Swamp BESE: Protect Lafayette Parish Public Schools — to rally more parents to join them in Baton Rouge.
Beasley was one of the six board members who voted against the Type 1 charter proposals, citing doubts that the charters could enroll 80 percent of at-risk students along with the lack of innovative practices in their proposals.
“That’s part of the charter school rationale, so to speak — to address a certain percentage of at-risk kids,” Beasley said.
“You have a school that will be in Sugar Mill Pond. I don’t know where you’re going to find that at-risk population.”
The two schools planned by Lafayette Charter Foundation/Charter Schools USA to open in August would be in the existing Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville and Couret Place, a traditional neighborhood under development in north Lafayette.
Both developments are designed as “walking” communities with residential areas and retail spaces in upper-income neighborhoods, Espinoza said.
“They’re not targeting at-risk children,” she said.
Locations for the National Heritage Academies schools have not been announced.
The charter schools also have their champions, including two Lafayette Parish mayors: Broussard’s Charles Langlinais and Youngsville’s Wilson Viator, who view the schools as a way to address their cities’ dire need for more schools.
The duo said they’ll move forward with plans to create a separate school district if the charter applications are rejected by BESE.
“If we don’t get those charter schools approved, we’re going to look at other steps, and the only other one I know of is to form our own school district,” Viator said.
“Then, Lafayette Parish School Board would be looking at losing five schools between Youngsville and Broussard if we do that.”
Viator first pitched the idea of a separate school district last year, and shortly thereafter, the board sold $30 million in bonds with about half of it spent to alleviate overcrowded schools in Youngsville.
“That’s only a Band-aid on the cut because all that’s going to do is barely put the kids we have now in portable buildings into permanent buildings,” Viator said.
Viator said that by next year, 2,500 lots for residential building will be on the market in Youngsville.
“We can’t wait. We have to do something — and the School Board needs to realize that,” Viator said.
Another option the mayors may push is a tax referendum dedicated to funding new schools in Broussard and Youngsville, Langlinais said.
“I want to see tax dollars spent in my area on schools and that’s the one way to assure it’s done,” Langlinais said.
The School Board will meet sometime after its Oct. 16 meeting to discuss the potential for building more schools in the district.