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School Board denies charter location at Riverside; LAPC questions attorney’s statements

RESERVE — St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members denied a site location request by Louisiana Premier Charter School to operate at Riverside Academy.

All present Board members approved the denial Thursday except Gerald Keller, who abstained. The Board also discontinued negotiations between the two entities in terms of opening the charter school for academic year 2019-20.

Board members’ votes seemed to be weighted heavily on the recommendation of School Board attorney Ty Manieri, who was hired to guide the District through its negotiation process with Louisiana Premier Charter.

Manieri contends Louisiana Premier Charter’s co-location at Riverside Academy aligned too close to a “school conversion,” a process prohibited under state law that says a private school cannot convert into a charter school.

Manieri said he does feel the challenges that exist in lawfully operating Louisiana Premier Charter on the campus at Riverside Academy are solvable but not in the timeframe of opening for 2019-20.

He suggested re-engaging negotiations to open the charter school for 2020-21.

A representative for Louisiana Premier Charter spoke briefly before Manieri’s comments, acknowledging charter officials were somewhat frustrated by not fully understanding what exactly they were supposed to be responding to when dealing with school district requests for information.

Louisiana Premier Charter board members are scheduled to meet next week, at which time they can decide their next move.

Following the meeting, Louisiana Premier Charter School Leader Alison Andrews said it really disappoints her that Manieri brings up concerns in school board meetings that he doesn’t “necessarily discuss with us” during negotiation periods.

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

The charter organization can approach the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about seeking charter status as a Type 2 school, which would mean it operates independently and without partnership from the St. John School Board.

Such a move is unlikely to be approved in advance of the 2019-20 academic year.

Louisiana Premier Charter School did recently send out acceptance letters to students, indicating to families that their children were set for enrollment next academic year.

Following Thursday evening’s meeting, St. John Public Schools officials began discussing a method by which to reach out to those families and notify them that the charter school would not be able to operate in 2019-20.

Concerns

During his comments Thursday night, Manieri said site negotiations only began in earnest in early February of this year, when the school district was first notified that Louisiana Premier Charter planned to open on the campus of Riverside Academy.

Manieri said there are no members of the Louisiana Premier Charter School Board who also sit on the Riverside Academy School Board, but four charter board members have “clear affiliation” to Riverside.

He said the registered agent who registered nonprofit Louisiana Premier Charter is the athletic director at Riverside Academy.

Following the meeting, Andrews countered, saying the charter board has three African American board members who spend a majority of their time volunteering with young African American men who need mentors.

“(Manieri) makes it out that they are not good board members,” she said. “It just bothers me that he attacks the integrity of some of our Board members who are beyond reproach and putting questions in people’s minds that shouldn’t be there.”

Manieri said he has reason to believe a large number of Riverside Academy teachers are “going to find their way over to Louisiana Premier Charter” when it opens.

“It’s been represented to us that Riverside Academy, at least its elementary grades, will close upon the opening of Louisiana Premier Charter,” he said.

“We have reason to believe, based on what we have seen thus far, that a substantial number of the students at Louisiana Premier Charter will be former students of Riverside. All added up, it is just too close to the borderline. It’s going to give us problems under state law as a conversion and these same factors … are going to be problematic in the desegregation case.”

Andrews said there are many parents who have stepped up and voiced that they want a charter school in St. John the Baptist Parish.

“We have as many public school students as we do private school students,” she said.

Although Manieri said an hours-long meeting between himself and Louisiana Premier Charter officials held Tuesday was productive, the school district was “ignored for a good portion” of the time since the site location was first announced in February.

Manieri also said St. John Public Schools is still missing financial disclosure forms from numerous charter board members and meeting minutes and agendas from previous 2019 charter board meetings.