Uninvited guests allowed in to charter school meeting

Some uninvited guests, including a member of the state education board, were allowed at the last minute Monday morning to sit in on presentations by charter school groups seeking space in public schools in north Baton Rouge, thereby averting a potential fight.

Carolyn Hill, who represents the area as part of the 8th District for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, was not happy she had not been invited, calling it “disrespectful.”

“We need people who reside in this area to be at the table,” Hill said.

Leaders of the Recovery School District organized the meetings, originally invitation-only, as that state agency decides which groups will land space in the seven schools RSD runs in north Baton Rouge.

Representatives from three charter management groups gave presentations on their school plans, and five more are returning Tuesday.

The three groups that presented Monday were Family Urban Schools of Excellence, of Connecticut; Friends of King, of New Orleans; and Baton Rouge University Prep.

The RSD is likely to make a decision in October.

The meetings occurred in two conference rooms in the Claiborne Building, home of the Louisiana Department of Education.

Despite being uninvited, Hill and a handful of others showed up Monday ready to protest if they were turned away.

Noel Hammatt, a former East Baton Rouge School Board member, arrived with a one-page letter objecting to the potential closing of the meetings.

Hammatt attended all three presentations Monday.

Afterward, he said none of the groups offered much detail to back up their arguments for their schools.

“I was very underwhelmed,” he said.

Hammatt, a frequent critic of the RSD and the state Department of Education, said among those invited was a 22-member advisory board to RSD, which has been meeting since at least March.

Hammatt noted and the state Attorney General’s Office has advised in the past, that other executive branch advisory boards are public bodies. He said he has spoken to three lawyers who agree with his view.

Dana Peterson, RSD’s deputy superintendent for external affairs, said earlier this month that public meetings would be required only if the advisory board was created by an elected body such as a school board or city council.

Since the advisory board wasn’t created by elected officials, Peterson said, it is not obligated to open its meetings to the public.

About 50 people attended Monday’s presentations, most of whom were invited to the event.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for community leaders and charter operators to have meaningful dialogue,” Peterson told the audience.

Five groups are scheduled to make presentations Tuesday: Celerity Educational Group, Collegiate Academies, Friendship Louisiana Inc., KIPP New Orleans and Spirit of Excellence.

Spirit of Excellence, which runs Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy in New Orleans, was scheduled to make its presentation Monday.