2 charter operators to share space at Dunbar building

New Orleans public school officials have decided which of two charter school operators will move into a new elementary school building that’s under construction in the Hollygrove neighborhood. The winner: both, at least temporarily.

KIPP Believe College Prep, which is outgrowing its building on South Carrollton Avenue, will move about 400 students into the new Paul L. Dunbar School on Forshey Street for the school year that begins in fall 2015.

At the same time, the Choice Foundation will move prekindergarten and kindergarten students into Dunbar from Lafayette Academy, hoping to ease overcrowding at that campus, which also is on South Carrollton.

The shared arrangement is scheduled to last for about two years while the state-run Recovery School District renovates two buildings that should be able to accommodate KIPP for the long term: McNair, where KIPP Believe already is located, and the James Weldon Johnson building, not far away on Monroe Street.

“It’s not ideal for anybody,” said Mickey Landry, the Choice Foundation’s executive director. “But I think it’s an appropriate solution.”

The compromise — which still has to be spelled out in a formal, written agreement — represents one of the more amiable conclusions in the long string of disputes over school buildings that have cropped up since Hurricane Katrina.

School officials have more than $1.8 billion in FEMA money to rebuild school infrastructure, but even that won’t be enough to make everyone happy.

Disputes have flared for years over who will run the schools that do get built, from L.B. Landry in Algiers to the Colton building on St. Claude Avenue.

More difficult decisions are on the way, including which school to house at the John McDonogh High School building on Esplanade Avenue, and where to place a new Booker T. Washington High School, which has soil contamination on its existing site.

The Dunbar dispute arose after the Recovery School District initially promised the building to Lafayette and the Choice Foundation, then officially listed the building as going to KIPP.

No one disputes that both charter programs, which have been relatively successful academically, need room to grow. Landry said the four classrooms that Lafayette is getting initially at Dunbar will “allow us to do in classrooms what we’re doing now in hallways.”

Jonathan Bertsch, the director of advocacy for KIPP, also gave the compromise a thumbs-up. He said the group is happy KIPP Believe will be able to remain long-term in the building where it has been housed for the past eight years, with another campus opening close enough to be convenient for families with students in multiple grades.

“We think it’s pretty exciting,” Bertsch said. “The Johnson building is only about a half a mile away, so having those schools in close proximity will help them develop a deeper connection.”