In The News › Report advises on future of N.O. schools

May 20, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Orleans Parish, Schools

Report advises on future of N.O. schools

Don’t go back to old system, it warns

Thursday, May 20, 2010
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune

Returning control of New Orleans public schools to a single elected board like the one that ran the schools before Hurricane Katrina would be “ill-advised,” a report released Wednesday concludes. However, the report does not offer a specific blueprint for what should replace the old board.

Instead, it lays out what the authors consider the strengths and weaknesses of five options for long-term governance of the city’s bifurcated education system, in which the local school board now wields control over a handful of schools, with most reporting to state authorities.

The report, titled “Managing Innovation: Models for Governing the System of Public Schools in New Orleans,” was released by two watchdog groups: Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives and the Bureau of Governmental Research.

It comes at an opportune time; the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must decide by late this year whether to extend state control over most of the city’s public schools beyond 2011 or return them to local control.

Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish School Board called for a return to local control. Steve Majors said the board has been reformed and is now equipped to manage the city’s diverse educational landscape. He also argued for the importance of electing the board’s members.

Under the current system, a handful of schools still report to the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board, but most report to the Recovery School District created by the state to take over failing schools after Katrina. Both systems contain traditional schools and charters, which are privately run though they get public money. Appointed boards run each of the charters, though some charters operate in clusters as part of local or national chains.

One option considered by the Cowen Institute-BGR report calls for reconsolidating governance of the schools under a single school board, some or all of whose members should be appointed, not elected as in the past, the report says. It suggests that appointing members would ensure representation of both traditional schools and charters.

If authority is returned to the Orleans Parish School Board, the report says, “it must be reformed to better equip it for its responsibilities and to avoid potential conflicts of interest.”

Another option, the report says, is to split off certain functions from the governing board.

The report looks at four scenarios in which various responsibilities — operating district schools, authorizing charter schools, managing school facilities, managing system finances, and doing systemwide planning and policymaking — are divided among either two or three authorities.

The authors find that each model has certain strengths and weaknesses.

“There is no perfect solution for school governance in New Orleans,” the report says. “But one thing is clear: We can and must improve upon past governance structures.”

The creation since Katrina of dozens of independently operated charter schools only increases the challenge of finding an appropriate overall governance model, the report says.

However, it says, if New Orleans “can ensure the proper blend of expertise within the governing entities overseeing the system; provide a focused mission for the entities; treat charter schools and traditional schools fairly; equitably allocate funds and facilities; and promote coordination and economies of scale where appropriate, it will become a model for school systems nationwide.”

The alternative, it says, is “a return to an educational system that routinely fails our children.”

Majors, the spokesman for the local school board, said it is “undertaking a rigorous evaluation of how neighborhood schools can be placed back in the hands of our community as soon as possible.”

Saying that the board has shown it can “institute much-needed reforms,” he said it is now “vastly different” from in the past and is “fiscally responsible, transparent in operations and dedicated to holding schools accountable for high academic performance.”

Majors also said the public expects “community input into how their tax dollars are spent on public education and they demand leadership that is local and accountable. For that expectation to be met,” he said, board members must be elected by the public.

A spokesman for the Recovery School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

May 20, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Orleans Parish, Schools

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