Inside Report: Iberville to get charter school despite advance

harter schools have become the talk of the town in Iberville Parish since it was announced earlier this year that the parish would have to welcome its first one this fall — Iberville Charter Academy.

School Superintendent Ed Cancienne responded to the news by calling it an intrusion on the school district’s rights and tax money.

That point was driven home recently when the school system’s Chief Financial Officer Jolain Landry said in a July 13 article that the Iberville Parish School System would have to fork over approximately $3.7 million in state Minimum Foundation Program funding to the charter school, which is scheduled to open Aug. 11.

That allocation is coming from a projected enrollment at the charter school of 376 Iberville students. The news sparked a spirited debate at the Iberville Parish School Board’s July 14 meeting.

Board member Nancy Broussard accused the state’s Department of Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of using underhanded tactics to greenlight the charter school’s move into the parish.

Comments Broussard made in defense of the school system came after a resident chided the board on obsessing over the $3.7 million loss in state funding.

In August, BESE 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 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. When the department released school performance scores in October, Iberville Parish had inched up to a C grade for its districtwide score.

“At the point when the state approved this charter, they knew we were already a C district,” Broussard said during the meeting. “They did an end run around the law. That’s a fact. We were not a D school system at the time the charter was approved. Had they been willing to come out and say it, they couldn’t do it legally.”

However, LDOE spokesman Barry Landry denied Broussard’s claim by explaining in an email that in 2013, the district performance scores for local school districts were not calculated until October — shortly before their release on Oct. 24, 2013.

South Louisiana Charter Foundation submitted its application to open the Iberville Charter Academy on March 15, 2013, Landry said.

BESE approved the application during its meetings on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14, Landry added.

“At the time charter applications were submitted, the letter grade for Iberville Parish was a D,” Landry wrote in an email. “To calculate annual letter grades, the Department runs a federally required data certification process during which districts verify all of their data for every child. This process takes place throughout late August and September annually.”

Iberville Parish school administrators have turned their attention to pressuring state officials to re-evaluate how they fund local charter schools through local tax revenue.

It’s an issue that could end up in court should the debate heat up.

Westside bureau chief Terry Jones can be reached at tjones@theadvocate.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.