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Charter school agreement made as Wise says School Board “should be ashamed of itself”

LAPLACE — Louisiana Premier Charter School and the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board have agreed to a contract, clearing the way for the charter school to begin educating students for 2019-20.

The School Board’s approval vote Thursday evening came amid a hailstorm controversy over a question of when members of the public were allowed to share their views and followed a failed attempt by School Board member Russ Wise to adjourn the meeting before a vote could be taken.

The confusion began around the time School Board Member Ali Burl III called attorney Ty Manieri to the podium to address the issue.

Due to the lack of a microphone near his chair, a nearly inaudible Assistant District Attorney Keith Green Jr. informed the School Board that members of the public were only allowed to speak before an agenda item was presented.

Wise said the process the Board followed for the previous 20 years included presentation of what is under discussion, followed by public comment, followed by comment by the board and concluded with a vote.

When no one from the public addressed the issue initially, Manieri proceeded with his presentation.

When Wise asked for time for the public to respond to Manieri’s comments, Burl called for Board members to vote.

“I believe people in this community have attended this meeting to be allowed an opportunity to be heard on this contract, and I refuse to proceed any further until they can be heard,” Wise said.

Immediately after the votes were cast, Wise said, “this Board should be ashamed of itself.” Moments later, he called the process, “the silliest thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Prior to the vote, Wise called for an abrupt meeting adjournment, a motion that died for lack of a second.

The contract officially passed with nine School Board members in favor, Wise abstaining and Phillip Johnson absent.

Agreement

According to Manieri, Louisiana Premier Charter School will begin the 2019-20 academic year at a site still to be determined in St. John the Baptist Parish. Manieri, an attorney with Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, represents the school district in its negotiations with the charter organization.

No one from the Charter school spoke at Thursday’s meeting and a message left with Louisiana Premier Board President Mark Roussel was not immediately returned before press time.

Manieri detailed the contract agreement as a four-year pact with an option for a fifth year before a more full-scale renewal is available.

The charter school will launch as a kindergarten-through-ninth-grade campus, hosting 50 students in each grade from kindergarten through eighth grade and 75 students in ninth grade.

The charter campus will expand one grade level each school year thereafter, serving 75 students per high school grade and concluding with 750 students after full expansion.

St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools Superintendent Kevin George said the charter school agreement includes a tiered system for student acceptance, with first priority going to the children of charter school employees, followed by students currently outside the public school system and finishes with students currently attending St. John public schools.

“This is going to be our school,” George said. “At the end of the day, we want to see it succeed. If it succeeds, kids are learning. No matter what the politics of it are, kids are going to be in that school and I want kids to learn.”

Louisiana Premier has a tentative agreement to operate 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.

The contract still must receive Department of Justice and federal court approval.