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Why NOLA Charters Aren't Returning to the Orleans Parish School Board

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By Denisa R. Superville. Cross-posted from the District Dossier blog. 

Nearly half of the charter organizations operating in New Orleans that are eligible to switch to the Orleans Parish School Board are opting to stay with the Recovery School District.

The charters' boards—15 of 36—have chosen to remain under the oversight of the Recovery School District, which took over the majority of the schools after Hurricane Katrina. Last spring, the Recovery district closed its last traditional public schools and became an all-charter school system.  

The charters are allowed to transfer from the Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board after meeting specific academic standards. However, no charter school board has chosen to return to Orleans Parish in the first three years that they have been eligible to do so. This is the fourth year that the boards have had that option.

Although there has been greater collaboration between the two school systems in recent years—including a joint enrollment application process and a compact to address the education of high-needs students and facilities use and planning—charter schools that qualify to transfer to Orleans Parish have been reluctant to do so. 

Orleans Parish—which ran six traditional public schools and chartered 16 charter schools in the 2013-14 school year—has been without a permanent superintendent for nearly two years. And in a report earlier this year on the state of the New Orleans public school system, the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University cited governance, including the lack of a permanent superintendent, as one of the major reasons charters were hesitant to transfer to the Orleans Parish board's purview. 

The Times-Picayune's Danielle Dreilinger writes: 

"The choice is widely seen as a referendum on the Orleans Parish School Board, which lost control of all but its top schools after Hurricane Katrina. The School Board has gotten its financial house in order but its membership has dissolved since the 2012 election into squabbling and inefficiency, with an unprecedentedly long leadership gap. Interim Superintendent Stan Smith has served for one year, 142 days."

According to the Times-Picayune, the majority of the eligible charter schools boards made the decision this month, and they must inform the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary School Education of their decisions by Jan. 5.

Nine charter boards have yet to vote, and another, the New Beginnings, plans to take a new vote next month after a previous 3-3 tie on the question, the paper reported. 

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