December 1, 2015

BESE overrides EBR school board, authorizes creation of two new charter schools

Committee OKs two charter applicants

Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday overrode a decision by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and authorized the creation of two new charter schools set to open next year.The action came despite fierce opposition from local school leaders, including Superintendent Warren Drake.The schools are Apex Southeast Inc., which will gradually serve low-income students in grades six to 12, and Laurel Oaks Foundation, which will eventually house students from kindergarten through eighth grade.The state Department of Education, following the recommendation of an independent evaluator, recommended that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approve both.BESE did just that on a 7-3 vote.The action was technically done by a BESE committee.However, all but one panel member was present, and final approval is expected on Wednesday.Eric Lewis, founder of what will be called Apex Collegiate Academy, said he recently took part in a fellowship program and studied 40 schools nationwide that educate students similar to those Lewis hopes to attract.“There is nobody who can question my love for this city,” Lewis told BESE. “We have visited with every elected official on this, black and white.”BESE member Carolyn Hill, who is serving her final meeting as an elected BESE member after being defeated last month, urged the panel to delay action for 30 days.“I would like to have more community leadership dialogue,” Hill said.Drake said charter schools are supposed to be innovative but neither Apex nor Laurel Oaks fits that description.Under state law, charter school applications rejected by local school boards can be appealed to BESE.Those appeals often spark arguments on whether they are fair to local school leaders.“We should not continue to disrupt local school boards,” Drake said. “It is like what we said meant nothing.”Other Baton Rouge board members urged BESE not to approve the schools, including newly appointed panel member Jacqueline Mims.State Superintendent of Education John White said local boards rejected 18 charter school proposals statewide and the department is recommending overrides of some kind in five of those cases.In most of the other cases, White said, evaluators for the state agreed with local boards.“There are 20,000 kids in the (East Baton Rouge) district in D and F schools,” White said. “It is a tragic situation.”Apex plans to offer a college preparatory education for students now attending low-performing public schools.The Laurel Oaks application said it will prepare students for academically rigorous high schools with an emphasis on character development and extended instructional time for math and literacy.Voting for both schools were Holly Boffy, Lafayette; Connie Bradford, Ruston; Jay Guillot, Ruston; Judith Miranti, New Orleans; Kira Orange Jones, New Orleans; Chas Roemer, Baton Rouge; and Jim Garvey, Metairie.Voting against were Carolyn Hill, Baton Rouge; Lottie Beebe, Breaux Bridge; and Jane Smith, Bossier City.Mary Harris, of Shreveport, missed the meeting.

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