Aug 22, 2013 1:15 AM by Tina Macias

School board defers charter decision

A decision on whether five charter schools will be built in Lafayette Parish was out off Wednesday night after the school board said they wanted to slow down the process.

Six hours into the Lafayette Parish School Board's seven-hour meeting, the board tabled that decision until they can hold a workshop and get more information about charter schools and different, creative ways to address their issues.

A date for the workshop was not set.

Two parents spoke at the board meeting, both against the charter school proposals.

"A vote for charters is at best a very expensive duplication of services and, at worst, a show of no confidence for the Lafayette Parish School System to educate our children," the parent said.

"If charters can come in and get excellent scores, that means our students are getting excellent scores," Superintendent Pat Cooper said. "I don't care who gets credit."

Cooper touted the charter schools as a way to reduce overcrowding in Youngsville and improve education on the Northside. Opponents questioned that because neither claim can be guaranteed.

The charter schools would be built with private funding but operate with public money that follow students. And, if approved, the school board would set some standards through a contract but the schools would be run by individual non-profit boards.

The four K-8 schools and high school would be built over the next four years and eventually house 5,100 students, according to their applications. The state and districts the charter schools are eyeing spent $9,800 to evaluate the applications. LPSS' portion was $5,425.

Only students who live in Lafayette Parish could attend the charter schools, so for every public school student that attends a charter school, $9,000 in annual local and state funding would follow them. At capacity, more than $45 million in state and local funding would be allocated to the charter schools.

While opponents of the charter school proposals argue that would drain funding from the traditional public school system, proponents say that funding will not be missed because fewer students mean fewer teachers and overhead costs.

The schools would be run by two charter school operators that run a combined 125 schools throughout the country.

The out-of-state companies would receive a portion of the schools' funds for management. For example, 10 percent of Lake Charles Charter Academy's $6.2 million in expenses was paid to Charter Schools USA's home office in 2011.

"I have an issue with an out-of-state company profiting form our tax dollars," parent Ann Burris said Wednesday. "I think this needs to slow down."

Florida-based Charter Schools USA operates 50 schools in seven states, including four in Louisiana. One is a Type 1 charter school, chartered with the Caddo Parish School Board. All Charter Schools USA's Louisiana schools have opened since 2011 and none have received letter grades yet.

Michigan-based National Heritage Academies operates 75 schools in nine states, including one in Louisiana, a Type 1 chartered with the East Baton Rouge School Board in 2010. That school is an "F" school. The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board denied the company's request to open a second Type 1 in 2011.

If approved, five-year charter school contacts will be awarded to nonprofit organizations that have partnered with Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies. National Heritage Academies non-profit, Inspire Charter Academy, Inc., is based in Zachary. Charter Schools USA's partnering-nonprofit, Lafayette Charter Foundation, Inc., is based here and has eight members, including a bishop, an oil and gas lobbyist and an appellate judge.

They include:
- Carlos Harvin, Bishop of New Beginnings Christian Church
- Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association
- Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, chief judge of the 3rd circuit court of appeals
- Karen G. Miller, CPA
- Virginia Jones, president of the Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber of Commerce

The three Charter Schools USA schools would open with about 600 students each with plans to grow to 1,200 each. The two National Heritage Academies schools would open with about 500 students with plans to grow to 750 students each.

Charter school timeline
2014: Charter Schools USA (K-8 w/1,200 capacity)
National Heritage Academies (K-8 w/750 capacity)

2015: Charter Schools USA (K-8 w/1,200 capacity)
National Heritage Academies (K-8 w/750 capacity)

2017: Charter Schools USA (9-12 w/1,200 capacity)



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