St. John Parish charter school faces time crunch to open for August

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

LAPLACE — St. John Parish’s first charter school is facing a tight deadline to open this summer.

Leaders with Louisiana Premier Charter School and St. John the Baptist Public Schools have been in correspondence and negotiation since June but have yet to come to terms on a contract, a necessary precursor for the Charter’s launch.

Known as a Type I Charter Contract, the agreement is vital to the Charter’s next steps, including securing the school location and beginning student recruitment, Louisiana Premier officials said.

An agreement is needed by February for Louisiana Premier to open in August and serve students during the 2018-19 academic year, according to Louisiana Premier Board President Mark Roussel.

“I think with the School District, we will definitely have an agreement by February,” Roussel said. “Then, there is some federal approval through the Department of Justice. We don’t think we will run into trouble with the DOJ, but you have to run it through them and you have to have a contract before that. The question is, if we have the contract in February, can we still open? That will depend on when in February we get it.”

The School District has never had a charter school before, and, according to Roussel, both sides “kind of underestimated the requirements to put this thing altogether.”

“Once we get the contract, we will have several open houses,” Roussel said. “We will make it very public and information is going to come out. If the contract is stalled, we are still going to do it; it just means (the school opens) in the fall of 2019 and not 2018.”

Complicating the matter for Louisiana Premier leaders is maintaining commitments from their paid administrators through a potentially lost academic year.

“If we lose a couple of key administrators, it just makes it a little more difficult but we are still going to do it,” Roussel said.

St. John Public Schools offered Louisiana Premier use of the old Leon Godchaux campus, a suggestion that was rejected, Roussel said, because the River Road location on the west side of the parish’s East Bank is not suitable.

“We just felt geographically it wasn’t in an area we were looking for,” he said. “We wanted some exposure and we have talked with agents for vacant land in LaPlace and Reserve and talked about building our own facility once we get a contract.”

Louisiana Premier leaders have a tentative agreement in place to operate the school at 3556 W. Airline Highway through a lease from Lifehouse Church — where Reserve Christian used to operate — a site that includes 18.6 acres, three classroom buildings, gymnasium, kitchen and cafeteria.

Roussel stressed Louisiana Premier cannot secure any final lease until first having a signed agreement with the School District.

St. John Public Schools Superintendent Kevin George recently told School Board members that District administrators are not operating under a deadline.

“We’re going to make sure this contract is tight, everybody understands everything and then move forward,” George said. “If that happens to be August of 2019, then it’s August 2019. I’m not rushing to try and get it done by 2018 just because they want to open. We’re going to make sure it is right. When it is right, it will open.”

During a recent Executive Committee meeting of the St. John School Board, lawyer Kevin Klibert, citing recent communication with the Justice Department, said it is “less and less likely (opening the charter) can be accomplished by August of this year.”

Klibert, of the Becnel Law Firm, is the School Board’s desegregation attorney.