Five charter groups’ applications likely to be shot down by board

School Board set to reject five applications

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is poised to reject requests by five charter school groups to start new schools in fall 2015.

The board also is wrestling with whether to grant a year in advance an extension to a charter for THRIVE Charter Academy, one of the district’s most successful new schools. THRIVE leaders want the early renewal to obtain bank financing to build a new campus at 2825 Brightside Drive.

Kimberly Williams, an education consultant hired by the school system, reviewed the five applications and found them all lacking. A sixth applicant, LA Achievement Charter Academies, withdrew at the last minute.

On Thursday, the School Board, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” agreed, unanimously recommending 9-0 to reject the five charter school applicants. Board member Vereta Lee had stepped out of the room, and Jerry Arbour did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

The board likely will reaffirm Williams’ recommendations at its June 19 meeting.

The five Type 1 applicants likely to be rejected are: Boys’ Life Preparatory Academy, Scholar Academy for Technical Education, Greater Educational Opportunities or GEO Foundation, The Crossover House and Timbuktu ASCEND.

The rejected applicants can appeal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. If so, they will be evaluated by a new third-party evaluator, Massachusetts-based SchoolWorks, and BESE will decide by December whether to grant their appeal.

The School Board already has local, or Type 1, charter agreements with eight schools, with two more opening in August. The state oversees six more charter schools in Baton Rouge and is opening five more this fall.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via contracts, or charters.

East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Bernard Taylor has urged the board to closely scrutinize new charter applications because the costs of existing charters are “eating us alive.”

Since East Baton Rouge Parish is a C-rated school district, new charter school applicants have to first apply to the parish School Board before they can seek BESE’s approval.

All but GEO Foundation, which is based in Indianapolis, have local connections. Boys’ Life’s school leader Dumaka Moultrie lives in Atlanta but was trained in a principal’s academy in New Orleans.

In contrast to most charter school groups, all five applicants are proposing schools with high school grades. Boys’ Life wants to start an all-boys, all African-American school starting with grades kindergarten to second grade that would eventually grow through 12th grade.

GEO Foundation is also seeking to start an elementary and a middle school. The School Board rejected GEO Foundation’s application a year ago, only to have BESE overturn it on appeal. GEO, however, lacks a building and is asking the school system to find one.

“We have no building to offer them, nor do we have anything that fits their model,” Williams explained.

Williams said all five applicants failed to sufficiently show what kind of curriculum they would offer and how they would track student progress.

In the case of Boys’ Life, about $1.1 million of the school’s finances are predicated on money Moultrie says Cajun Industries founder Lane Grigsby has promised. Williams said Moultrie, however, could not produce a letter of commitment from Grigsby.

In other action, THRIVE Charter Academy, which in just two years has leapt into the ranks of the higher-performing public middle schools in Baton Rouge, would ordinarily be reviewed for a 10-year renewal in 2015 but says it needs an early renewal.

“The banks are not comfortable lending to us when there’s only one year left on the contract,” said Sarah Broome, founder of the school. “They want a little something extra to give them some encouragement and to feel safe with that.”

Several School Board members complimented the school Thursday and urged school system administrators to find a solution by June 19.

Domoine Rutledge, the school system’s general counsel, said neither THRIVE’s contract nor state law contemplates such an early charter renewal. He promised to seek a speedy attorney general’s opinion to get his take on the legality of an early renewal.