Somebody Has to Say It: Why is the Orleans Parish School Board Afraid of Power?

When a public school board holds a special meeting just to pass a resolution against a state senate bill that would give it a little more autonomy over local public education—and we mean just a smidgeon more—it becomes abundantly clear that the individuals serving on that school board do not deserve the seats they hold.

That is exactly what the members of the Orleans Parish School Board did at a special meeting on Tuesday, April 26. The move doesn’t surprise us as we have long noted that this board is absolutely uninterested in public education. No, we are not shocked, but we are still pretty heated about this board being content to allow quasi-private charter management organizations to run amok while our children, parents and taxpayers suffer.

Make it Make Sense: Earlier this week, the Orleans Parish school board voted in favor of a resolution urging the state legislature to slow down action on a proposed senate bill that would give it more autonomy over local public education. What is this School Board afraid of?

State Sen. Joe Bouie’s S.B. 404 would allow the school board to determine which aspects of charter operations, such as the hiring, curriculum and the outsourcing of services like transportation, should be under the charter operator’s control when the board negotiates charter contracts. The proposed legislation would also require board approval to allow a charter management organization to act as its own local education agency.

We’re not talking about wholesale changes here. We’re talking about an opportunity for a publicly elected body to exercise a little more control over public education in a city where people have elected them to govern public education.

For example, Bouie’s proposal would still prohibit the duly elected school board from managing the day-to-day operations of charter schools. Moreover, the proposed change would only apply to schools that are D-rated and F-rated campuses. It would only apply to the failing schools. So again, we’re not talking about throwing-out-babies-with-bathwater changes. In fact, we’re talking about targeting those schools that continue to fail our students—even by the state’s muddied and muddled standards that have been changed over the past 15 years to hide the failure of this reform effort.

So what exactly is the Orleans Parish School Board afraid of? Well, according media reports, Orleans Parish school Board President Olin Parker has said that there is a concern that charter schools would bypass the Orleans Parish School Board and go straight to the state board of education in order to get their charters approved.

So what!

It is utterly ridiculous for a duly-elected school board to be afraid of what charter management operators might do if they have to submit—even a little bit—to the authority of the public school board. Parker fears they would just bypass NOLA Public Schools and the Orleans Parish School Board altogether and get chartered by the state. We suppose that is a real fear, especially when you have allowed all of your power to be given to these quasi-private businesses operating under the guise of so-called education reform.

Mutiny is always a possibility. But at the end of the day, it’s sort of like Chick-Fil-A being worried about what a franchisee who wants to open on Sunday might do in the face of the corporation’s closed-on-Sundays rule. That restaurant owner could open every Sunday, but he will not be operating a Chick-Fil-A. So what if these failing schools try to get charter contracts with the state board of education! Let them try!

But in the meantime, hey, school board: Want to know what you could do if some of these charter operators decide they no longer want to operate under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board? You could yank their charters and start operating traditional public schools throughout the city of New Orleans. You could reclaim buildings, facilities and resources and create more neighborhood schools. You could stop bussing our children all across the city, and completely squeeze out these profiteers by creating a school system (not a system of schools) where charters are the exception and not the rule. You could actually do what the people of Orleans Parish elected you to do.

Still, Parker reportedly expressed concern that the proposed bill has the potential to create a system of schools with “different levels of autonomy.”

Is he serious? The vast majority of charter schools operating in Orleans Parish are C, D, and F rated schools, and he is worried about “different levels of autonomy.” He is worried whether one charter school has to submit more than another to the power of the publicly elected school board? DIFFERENT—that’s the thing keeping him up at night?

We already have a system of schools with DIFFERENT levels of opportunity.

We already have a system of schools with DIFFERENT levels of access. OneApp remains a joke—a system where schools choose students, not the other way around. Let’s remember that roughly 90 percent of White public school students in Orleans are enrolled in the handful of top-performing campuses in a city where nearly 90 percent of public school students are Black.

We already have a system of schools with DIFFERENT levels of resources and different levels of staff and faculty qualifications.

We already have a system of schools highly stratified by race and class.

Ours is the only all-charter system in the entire country; and in 2019, only 27 percent of the students in this DIFFERENT system were performing at grade level. Hell, we got “DIFFERENT” down to science. What no one seems to want to do is what is RIGHT—and the right thing is to end this failed experiment. We believe Bouie’s bill is one small step in that direction, and that’s why this board can’t bring itself to support it.

What we need is a public school system that provides quality educational opportunities for every single child in Orleans Parish regardless of their zip code, their family income, their race or ethnicity. And each and every time the Orleans Parish School Board meets and takes action, it becomes painfully clear that it is completely uninterested in providing that.

The next school board elections are still a little more than two years away. To be sure, 2024 cannot come fast enough.

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