The Return Model for School Governance

In 2010, Educate Now! convened a Task Force to consider long-term governance alternatives for New Orleans public schools.  In a series of meetings over several months, the members of the Task Force worked on how best to restore local control of public education without imperiling the considerable academic progress since 2005.

The Task Force determined that New Orleans requires a unique governance structure to manage the new “system of schools” that has evolved since Katrina. The structure that the Task Force recommended is called the Return Model.

The Return Model:  A New Approach to Governance for Schools in Orleans Parish

Interviews:  Leslie Jacobs Explains the Return Model

Comment on the Return Model

The Return Model report lays out the governance system that the Task Force recommended.  Not every detail is attended to, and Educate Now! expects and invites community debate that will further refine the model.


10 comments on “The Return Model for School Governance

  • Steve Timm says:

    Progress, at last. The collection of experts is impressive and the outlook is even brighter than one could have imagined.

    We must continue to focus on solutions that are best for our students, the future of our city.

    I thank everyone involved.

    steve timm

  • Roslyn J. Smith says:

    How would this model work in St. Charles Parish, St. Tammany Parish, Jefferson Parish, or any of the other LEAs in the state other than Orleans Parish?

    Who were the individuals in the study group? Did the group include anyone willing to propose this model for other parts of the state?

    Has anyone considered the feelings of citizens whose loss of the right to vote for elected officials to govern their schools will be effected by this proposal?

    As an African American citizen, a member of society whose ancestors fought for the right to vote, this proposal lessens the power of my voting privilege. It is unacceptable because we have already experienced “laws” and “legislation” put in place to control our people and reduce the power of our rights as full-citizens. I can’t support taking a step backwards for future generations of black citizens who populate these schools.

    • Educate Now’s response:
      1. This model is not meant for the rest of the state. No other district has a system of schools where a majority of the public schools are autonomous charter schools
      2. The 38 diverse members of the Task Force are listed on the report.
      3. The Return Model keeps an elected school board and gives it overarching responsibility, including the power to decide the number and types of schools, standards for school performance, policies to ensure that all students are served, allocation of resources, both money and facilities.

  • Richard Henault says:

    A concern…a follow the money exercise…if the Governing Board controls resources (money, facilities, etc.) one might take the position that it controls the other Boards?

    • Educate Now’s response:
      The Return Model is meant to provide a balance of power between the 3 boards.
      It is assumed that these protections would be put in place as part of the legislation:
      1. Money: the law would limit the amount of money the Governing Board could keep- most likely to 1% of the state and local funds and none of the federal title funds. That said, the Governing Board would create the weighted student formula that determines how much money will “follow” a particular student. This formula would apply across all schools/students.
      2. Facilities: The Governing Board controls the facilities, but they must make decisions about these facilities through approved policy, and the law would require that policies apply to all schools. If either Oversight Board objects to the proposed policy, then the Governing Board needs a 2/3rds majority to approve. For example, if the Governing Board wants to charge schools rent, they would need to adopt a policy outlining how the rent would be calculated and this charge would apply equally to all schools- direct run and chartered. They would need to adopt a policy to outline how facilities are assigned, etc.
      3. Stewards of the System of Schools: A key assumption of the Return Model is that the Governing Board does not have the power nor the incentive to favor a particular school or type of school over another. First, they are not operating any schools. They should not care whether a school is direct run or chartered; their focus should be on school quality. Secondly, their policies have to apply to all schools. Finally, the two Oversight Boards each have a “no” card they can play. Either they agree with the Governing Board’s proposed policy or the Governing Board must muster 2/3rds vote to enact it.

  • Susan Hayne says:

    It’s rewarding to me to see this system of the Charter schools receiving the support, not only here in New Orleans, but the recognition of what New Orleans is doing in education.

    This structure of this Return model is impressive and an excellent system of checks and balances.
    I do want to ask about Vocational Education which is lacking for the trades people. Not everyone should go to college and we have so many areas of needs. I believe some iniatives are out there, but I would like to know where the Charter schools are on an alternative school system or just a part

    I was once on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce group and at Lee Gary’s request I monitored Orleans Parish School Board meeting for one year. It was when Rose Loving was President. It was an eye opener. I would like to mention that I managed a staffing business so I saw the products of the school system, the teachers who wanted to work summers and then the meetings, I could write a book, except much of the meetings were behind closed doors in executive session and anything of public or educational importance would be last on the agenda after 10 or 11pm when no one was there. My husband had 4 children at Ben Franklin, two who graduated from there and 2 who went on to McMain as they did not like Ben Franklin. I worked with people from the community when they were looking to open another school in New Orleans East, that was my first real political lesson as to what went on there from every aspect. The committee was teriffic, however,when recommendations were made where to build the school and why, the School Board said they did not know about the committee and chose another location for a school. The committee had been in contact with a School Board liason in the same offices giving reports to Rose Loving and Elizabeth Rack. This same committee werem the group of business people who were for Ben Franklin moving to UNO’s Campus. They did tons of research gathered and compiled the data of all those students attending and why UNO was the best place to put it.

  • Can you explain the rationale for the oversight boards being appointed rather than elected? This structure would make them less directly accountable to the public and that does not seem like a good thing to me.

    • Educate Now’s response:
      There were a number of reasons the task force recommended appointed boards:
      1. The first reason was practical. It would be hard to get that many good people to run- spend the money and effort- to be elected for the positions. The Task Force assumed each Oversight Board would have 5-7 members. The elected Governing Board (OPSB) currently has 7 members. If all three boards were elected, we would have 17-21 elected positions to fill. In the last school board elections, few people ran. In fact, Thomas Robichaux had no opposition in an open (no incumbent) seat.
      2. Secondly, the two Oversight Boards are operating board versus policy boards, and there was a desire to populate the boards with a balance of skill sets. While the Task Force did not discuss what the specific skills/qualifications for each Oversight Board should be, the diversity might include someone with financial expertise, a parent, a former school administrator or charter board member, etc.
      3. There was also the opinion that appointed Oversight Boards would be more willing to make hard decisions, if required, concerning low performing schools. For example, an appointed Charter Oversight Board might be more willing to non-renew or revoke the charter of a low performing school, especially a politically connected one, than an elected board.

  • Who is it that will be appointing the boards? How will they be held accountable for their actions (or inaction) by the public????

    • Educate Now’s response:
      The proposal calls for an appointive process similar to the one used to appoint the post-Katrina levee boards. It is a two step process. The legislation would designate a selection committee and who and how one is appointed to this selection committee. The selection committee would then appoint the members of the Oversight Boards, based on qualifications outlined in the law. Anyone could nominate a person to be considered by the selection committee.

      The Task Force did not go any further in answering these questions, assuming, if the Return Model gathers support, the details of the appointment process would undergo more conversation and public input.

      Accountability: The model gives the elected Governing Board the right to require a new Oversight Board be selected/seated if it fails to perform. It would take a 2/3rds vote of the Governing Board and would be effective only after the Governing Board had given the Oversight Board appropriate warnings and ample opportunity to “cure” the problem.


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