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Hemelt: Charter school’s opening is in our best interests

St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members should do whatever is in their power to facilitate the opening of Louisiana Premier Charter School for this August.

That is a lot easier said than done, but elected leaders are often tasked with doing the difficult for the greater good.

Granted, passion-filled opinions from intelligent people differ greatly when it comes to the necessity of a charter school in St. John Parish, which already has an active public school district and five private schools.

Yet, the fact remains that St. John School Board members voted in late May 2017 to approve the opening of Louisiana Premier as a Type I charter school, meaning it operates in a limited partnership with the School Board.

Now, the two sides (with their lawyers in tow) must find the common ground necessary to finalize a contract and launch a new era in local education.

Louisiana Premier Charter ultimately wants to open at kindergarten-through-12th grade school that serves St. John Parish residents in a tuition-free setting.

Charter leaders say the need is great for an alternative option for parents because six of the 10 public schools are rated at C level, while a seventh (Fifth Ward Elementary) is regarded as a D school, according to the most recent school report cards released by the Louisiana Department of Education.

They also say approximately 2,000 St. John students are either attending private schools, going out of parish for public education or being homeschooled, a total and percentage significantly higher than neighboring parishes.

“Now we just need to get in a room and get (the contract) signed,” Louisiana Premier Board President Mark Roussel said. “If there is any point of disagreement, we can resolve it right there and sign it. We will just change the contract and sign it there.”

However, St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District officials have stated publicly and in private that they are not the holdup and point to questions about location, enrollment, services and timing as reasons why the contract is not completed.

Having talked extensively with multiple members on both sides of this divide in on-the-record and off-the-record conversations, it’s clear a compromise can be reached and reached in a short amount of time.

The amount of intelligence and fortitude on both sides of the table is too great for this to fall by the wayside. The politics and racial concerns are certainly there, but heartfelt dedication by these men and women outweigh the difficult positions they find themselves in.

It certainly won’t be ideal, because the start of the 2018-19 academic year is a little more than four months away, but it is doable.

That’s why the public school district is in the process of launching a 2018-19 magnet high school program under a similar timeline.

I want them both. Local parents deserve them both.

Each new effort should push the other to offer students the best possible education experience. The competition and (hopefully) product should also improve at our private schools.

More quality options means more benefit to our students. Here’s to hoping our children are served to the best of our leaders’ capabilities.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.