School Board tables decision on charter request to open at Riverside Academy
Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 27, 2019
RESERVE — Over the course of approximately ten minutes, a St. John the Baptist Parish School Board attorney detailed the reasons why he could not recommend approval for a new charter school to open on the Riverside Academy campus.
Ty Manieri delivered those remarks during Thursday’s School Board meeting. They were accepted by School Board members, who voted 9-0 (two were absent) to table the request.
“We made a number of information requests to put our mind at ease about the co-location of Louisiana Premier Charter School at Riverside Academy,” Manieri said. “I would like to say in the two and a half months that passed since they told us this on Feb. 8 that those concerns have been addressed. I’ve got to say those concerns have been expanded in the last two months.”
Manieri said a chief concern was financial, indicating Louisiana Premier Charter initially had a memorandum of understanding to operate on the old Reserve Christian site at approximately $210,000 a year. He questioned Louisiana Premier’s new agreement with Riverside Academy calling for a $500,000 yearly lease.
Manieri also questioned the process by which Louisiana Premiere Charter selected Riverside as the best location.
“On Feb. 8, when they announced the site to us, they told us they had a consultant’s report and appraisals that supported this as the best site for the school,” he said. “As of today, we have not received those consultant’s reports, not seen those appraisals. We’ve asked for them numerous times over the last two and a half months.”
Without mentioning specific names, Manieri repeatedly questioned what he said was clear crossover between Riverside Academy employees and Louisiana Premier Charter board members and the conflict that creates in the mingling of public and private funds.
In recent weeks, Manieri said he received conflicting accounts from a Louisiana Premier Charter attorney and consultant on if the school would start in year one as a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school or kindergarten-through-ninth-grade school.
“It also raised some concern that these decisions, I believe, are being made outside of Board meetings of the Louisiana Premier Charter Board, because I am not aware that they met at anytime between these conflicting answers that I got,” Manieri said.
Newly elected Louisiana Premier Charter Board President Andre Washington addressed the School Board before and after Manieri’s comments.
Washington said he spoke Wednesday with St. John Public Schools Superintendent Kevin George, indicating he understood the superintendent’s concerns and was ready to address them. He did so by providing a folder of documents to George during the meeting, saying “I didn’t want to have public discussion without first allowing you, the Board and legal counsel time to review those things.”
Following Manieri’s comments, Washington said he is not and has never been an employee of Riverside. Washington did say he is a volunteer coach and mentor at four metro area schools, including Riverside Academy.
Washington also addressed a concern raised by Manieri that Louisiana Premier Charter would have to pay a $1 million rent charge in year 5. According to Washington, that is a standard lease clause that protects the landlord in the case that when the lease ends, the tenant refuses to leave.
After four years, Washington said Louisiana Premier Charter would renegotiate terms with Riverside if the charter school intended to stay at that location.
Manieri contends that the $1 million clause puts Riverside Academy in too favorable of a position for those potential negotiations.
Multiple School Board members said their decisions to table the site request were forced by Louisiana Premier Charter after Washington closed his initial remarks by presenting new documents to the superintendent.
“Here you are asking us to vote on opening up the school and you and your Board are presenting us with information tonight and expecting us to make a decision,” St. John School Board President Patrick Sanders said. “I’m not being unfavorable. I’m being fair. Do you think it is fair for your organization to come to us tonight and say, vote on this and here is the information to disseminate tonight?”
Washington countered by saying he thought the School Board already had all the information needed and his packet delivery was just honoring his word based off a conversation the day before with the superintendent.
Right before the tabling vote, Washington and Manieri offered dissenting opinions on if the two sides’ legal teams had shared all requested information with each other.
Prior to Thursday’s School Board meeting, Washington and Louisiana Premier Charter School Leader Alison Andrews spoke to L’OBSERVATEUR about what they said was misleading information circulating in the community.
Washington said sports is in no way driving any decision to not start the charter school with a high school component.
“The main concern is establishing the curriculum that Alison is putting forward that we believe is going to really start this project off in the best fashion possible,” he said. “The subject of sports has never been part of Board discussion.”
Andrews said the official lease proposal to operate at the old Reserve Christian site is $581,760 yearly, making Riverside’s proposal the more affordable option. She also said the Reserve Christian location would need another $500,000 in upgrades to make it student ready.
According to Andrews, Louisiana Premier Charter has provided the School Board a school-by-school breakdown of where the charter’s more than 500 applicants currently attend. She said more detailed racial makeup information on the applicants has been turned into and updated for the Justice Department on four occasions.
The St. John 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 2019-20.
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.
The charter school and Riverside would function independent of each other, according to statements from each institution.