Frustration between Louisiana Premier Charter, St. John School Board plays out

Published 12:09 am Saturday, March 16, 2019

RESERVE — Simmering tensions that have long bubbled beneath the surface between Louisiana Premier Charter and St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members came out in a public way Thursday night.

Two hours into an elongated School Board meeting, Charter School Leader Alison Andrews took dead aim at what she described as a negative working environment between the two education entities.

It was not a classification appreciated by School Board members.

The School Board approved an initial agreement last year with Louisiana Premier Charter, clearing the way for the Charter School to attempt to open in St. John Parish for the 2019-20 academic year.

Louisiana Premier Charter must still receive approval from a federal desegregation judge, the Department of Justice and finalize an operating agreement with the School Board.

On Thursday, the School Board was set to vote on a generic charter school policy that would establish guidelines for all future charter agreements — with Louisiana Premier Charter or other possible entities.

The approval would have allowed Louisiana Premier Charter to seek more than $300,000 in federal grant money to help with start-up expenses.

School Board members ultimately voted 6-3 in favor of tabling the motion.

The School Board meets again April 4.

Before Thursday’s vote, Andrews said she was tired of the School Board posing questions about the charter school in public, in L’OBSERVATEUR and in executive committee meetings.

“We never seem to have the opportunity to respond; I wanted to take that opportunity tonight,” she said. “I know that our Board president has sent emails to each of you at least two times with no responses. He has called several of you numerous times for a quick chat, for lunch, let’s get together, let’s talk about things to find out who each other are. Still, no responses.”

Andrews stressed Louisiana Premier Charter, which plans to open on the same site as Riverside Academy in Reserve, will maintain separate addresses and separate buildings and not co-mingle public and private funds.

“We will have a lease agreement that is overseen by both parties to ensure our fiscal responsibility,” Andrews said. “You will also have access to that lease agreement.

“We will have our own logo. We are LAPC; we are not Riverside. We will have colors and logos that are part of our parent input and our Board input.”

According to Andrews, Louisiana Premier Charter has received 600 applications.

“Tonight we wonder, are you going to continue to say ‘no’ every time we are on the agenda?” she said. “We are asking that you adopt a policy tonight to be an authorizer of our Charter school. We’re asking you to do this so we can ask for a federal grant for high quality curriculum materials and technology for the students of St. John Parish.

“You approved our charter; are you trying to help us open or are you going to try to prevent it? We hope that you will consider this as we ask you again to be our authorizer?”

Following Andrews’ comments, Superintendent Kevin George called them “a terrible opening statement.”

School Board members Debbie Schum and Nia Mitchell also took exception to the characterization.

Schum said she has responded to every person from Louisiana Premier Charter, mentioning one exchange that took place within the hour of an initial email.

“To me, it is insulting to this Board for somebody to come up here and say that before we even had a chance to address the issue,” Schum said. “If it seems like I am a little perturbed about that, I am. Because I came here prepared to pass this policy. I seconded the motion and I was very ready to say, ‘hey, we need to move this item.’ I do not think it behooves anyone in this parish to make accusations before we had a chance to actually try and pass the policy.”

Mitchell said she has spoken to Louisiana Premier Charter representatives on several occasions and met in person with the Charter board president.

“I am pretty upset right now that there were accusations made to insinuate to the public that we are playing games,” Mitchell said.

The School Board ultimately tabled its decision.

In an effort to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table, numerous Louisiana Premier Charter representatives stayed after Thursday’s meeting conclusion to speak with School Board members.   

The tabled item is scheduled to be on the agenda again in three weeks.