EBR School Board agrees to let two existing charters expand, rejects other applications

The East Baton Rouge School Board on Thursday agreed to let two charter school groups already running schools in Baton Rouge add second schools as early as 2014, but rejected seven other applicants.

In other business, the board gave Superintendent Bernard Taylor a satisfactory evaluation Thursday, although it was much lower evaluation than that of his predecessors.

He received a score of 2.3 out of a possible 4. He was judged in five categories: relations with the board, community relations, staff and personnel relationships, educational leadership, and business and finance.

No parish superintendent in recent memory has received lower than a 3 overall on their annual evaluation.

It was Taylor’s first job evaluation since starting in June 2012. His contract expires in June 2015. He was previously served for six years as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Taylor opted not to meet in closed session with board members Thursday to discuss the evaluation, saying instead he will meet one-on-one with board members who want talk to him.

“It was satisfactory, and we’re going to keep on moving,” Taylor said afterward.

Taylor’s relations with several School Board members have frayed in recent weeks during protracted clashes over the budget.

Written evaluations were completed by board members over the past two weeks. Board President David Tatman, a supporter, said he gave Taylor a higher rating, around a 2.5.

“I think there are things he needs to work on,” Tatman said, “and there are things we need to work on together.”

The board on Thursday unanimously approved J.K. Haynes’ request to open a 400-student middle school, but it’s not clear where it will be located. The group, which opened its elementary school in 1997, has sought to take over Crestworth Middle, which is operated by the state, though that’s looking doubtful.

A committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, poured cold water on the idea on Tuesday, but said it would reconsider the application in October if the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board approved the charter.

“The state has not exactly said no to us,” said Nelson Taylor, president of J.K. Haynes’ charter. “We are still very confident that we can get Crestworth. And if you were to say yes, that makes our argument even stronger.”

If the state says no, Taylor said J.K. Haynes is toying with expanding its current campus in Scotlandville.

The board approved in a 9-1 vote granting a charter to a group that plans to contract with Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. That organization on Monday opened its first charter school in Baton Rouge, called Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid City. The second Baton Rouge school would be located in the Gardere area.

The state on Thursday gave the green light start schools run by Charter Schools USA in Baker and in Iberville Parish.

Charter Schools USA operated 48 charter schools in five states last year. The group already operates schools in Lake Charles and Shreveport in Louisiana.

The proposal before the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board called for an 800-student elementary school in the Gardere area. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith cast the sole vote against approving it; board member Vereta Lee abstained.

“I might not be inclined to grant a charter school application anywhere in the parish, but there is a great need down there,” board member Jerry Arbour said.

Nelson-Smith said she has concerns about the cost of a new charter school, roughly $8 million a year for a school with more than 800 students. She noted that the organization is new to the area.

Nelson-Smith said she had planned to visit the organization’s Mid City school on Thursday, but ended up having to cancel. Jay Augustine, the organization’s director of development and legal affairs in Louisiana, was to lead the tour; he served on the School Board from 2007 to 2011.

Augustine noted the technology the school offers, including wireless access throughout its renovated campus, formerly Remington College, and interactive white boards in most classrooms.

“All the bells and whistles and creature comforts that kids could want,” Augustine said.

The Charter Schools USA school, operating as Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid City, already has more than 500 students in grades kindergarten to six. It plans to expand all the way to eighth grade with more than 800 students.

One distinctive features of Charter Schools USA is that it calls for parents to spend many hours volunteering at the school.

Shantell Cosom, a sixth grade math teacher at Baton Rouge Charter Academy, is also a parent of two students, who like her just started at the school. She said her children were happy with how new the school is and that “nothing is broken.”

“They just love their teachers. “They’re so nice. No one is yelling,’” Cosom recalled the children saying.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Aug. 16, 2013, to reflect that School Board member Vereta Lee abstained and board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith voted no on the proposal to let Charter Schools USA run a second charter school in Baton Rouge.