School Board votes again, approves charter school in St. John Parish

Published 12:04 am Saturday, June 3, 2017

RESERVE — Less than a week after rejecting a request from a charter school to operate in St. John the Baptist Parish, the St. John School Board reversed its decision — with stipulations.

In a special meeting held Wednesday night, the School Board voted 8-2 to approve Louisiana Premier Charter School as a Type I charter school.

Board Members Phillip Johnson, Gerald Keller, Patrick Sanders, Sherry DeFrancesch, Russ Wise, Clarence Triche, Keith Jones and Shawn Wallace voted to approve the application.

Members Ali Burl III and Charo Holden voted against. Nia Mitchell elected to abstain.

Last week the Board voted to reject the application completely.

Since then, Board members have had conversations among themselves about the difference between a Type 1 and a Type 2 charter school and what it means for the local district.

A Type 1 charter school is one that is authorized by a local school board and works with local school districts.

A Type 2 school is authorized by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) board and is not subject to any local regulations.

An independent evaluator told the Board last month that Louisiana Premier Charter School had met all of the criteria the state requires and likely would be approved by the BESE board.

It expects to open in the fall of 2018 at the site of the defunct Reserve Christian School at 3556 W. Airline Highway, which is owned by Lifehouse Church.

Armed with a little more knowledge about the way charter schools work, the Board decided it wanted to revisit the measure in a special meeting Wednesday night.

“After the meeting last week, the Board Members were just talking about it, wondering did we really do the right thing?” Schools Superintendent Kevin George said.

“There was some of that conversation going on after the meeting. On Friday I got a call from Mr. Triche saying that he wanted to call a special meeting to reconsider the matter. He said they wanted another opportunity to vote this in.”

George said Triche was not the only Board Member to wonder aloud if the board had made the right decision last week.

“I think there was a lot of second-guessing,” George said. ”It was a big decision and that’s what brought us back in today.”

Wise told the Board before Wednesday’s re-vote, “This may be one of the most important decisions that we will make this year. School choice is with us. There’s just no way around it.”

Wise then made the motion to suspend its rules to revisit the matter and to approve the school’s application as a Type 1 charter.

As a Type 1 charter, the new school would be under some control of the School Board and open up the lines of communication.

“If we don’t do this, we risk giving up total control, total communication with this school,” Wise said. “This school is going to happen. The question is, is it going to be under local authority or is it going to be run straight from Baton Rouge.”

Triche said he would prefer that the Board have some say-so over the school.

“It would be much better to have control of a school in our district,” Triche said. “Financially we’d be better off with a Type 1 charter.”

Holden was against the measure because of concerns from her constituents that a new school might pull students from the already-small enrollment at the West Bank schools. 

George said the number of West Bank students who want to cross the Mississippi River to attend an East Bank school is miniscule.

“West St. John is a unique community,” he said. “The people in Edgard attend their schools. I don’t see this really affecting them.”

The main concern of other Board Members was the financial strain the school might put on the district.

“Financially, this district will absorb some added monetary strain,” George said. “But that strain is coming, whether we like it or not. Would you want to give — and I’m just using a number — 1 million dollars to a group and have no input or would you want to give a million dollars and have some say and some input and work together with them?

“Do you want these public dollars to leave the control of these 11 people who were elected by the people to tell how our money is supposed to be spent, or do you want to say, ‘No. Here’s the check?’”

George said this was the third time the School Board had received an application from a charter school, but two of those were by this same charter organization.

One other group had put together a proposal, but George said it was so weak it never followed the process to be put before the Board for a vote.

He said he did have a conversation with a charter school that had been rejected by St. James Parish.

“I urged them to go back to St. James Parish,” George said.

According to local officials, Louisiana Premier Charter School must meet pre-approved conditions and a checklist timline from the St. John School Board and BESE in order to open for the fall of 2018.