Return of Schools – Reimagining a Traditional School District

If, when and how the Recovery School District (RSD) schools should return to local control has been a point of discussion and contention for the past ten years. On Wednesday, SB 432 by Senator Peterson unanimously passed the Senate and now heads to the House. If SB 432 becomes law, these questions are about to be answered.

SB 432 redefines the roles of the School Board and the district Superintendent, creating an opportunity for New Orleans to implement a reimagined school district in which:

  • Parents choose the school best for their child
  • Autonomous schools make unimpeded academic and personnel decisions on behalf of children
  • The Superintendent authorizes schools to exist and regulates the fair treatment of students
  • The School Board hires and fires the Superintendent, oversees the system’s financial health, and approves policy as needed

The risk going forward is one of execution:

  • Will the Superintendent and School Board be willing to make the hard decisions necessary to promote excellence and equity for all students?
  • How well will the Superintendent and the central office perform the current RSD functions?

Cowen Institute just released a poll that once again shows strong public support for charters and choice, which is protected in SB 432. This poll also reflects the public’s continued ambivalence over the return of schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

If SB 432 becomes law, schools will return. The spotlight and discussion will move to the School Board elections this October. The School Board we elect this fall will oversee the return of schools and will be ultimately be responsible for the competent execution of these new responsibilities.

SB 432 – Context

Over the past decade, the implementation of charter school autonomy, citywide family choice, educator talent development and recruitment, and strong school accountability has produced unprecedented academic gains for students.

Alongside these changes, New Orleans has been a national leader in designing the infrastructure needed to support a citywide system of autonomous charter schools. Our innovations have included:

  • Enroll NOLA/OneApp, a centralized enrollment system
  • A common expulsion system
  • Dedicated funds for school facility capital maintenance to be allocated directly to schools
  • A citywide differentiated student funding formula that recognizes some students are more expensive to educate than others
  • The creation and operation of the Youth Opportunity Center, which works with truants and students transitioning from the courts and jails
  • A partnership with Tulane to open the Therapeutic Center for students with mental health challenges who need more intensive supports than a school can offer

Together, these changes have redefined public education in New Orleans.

SB 432 – A Model for Re-imagining the School District

To unify the schools under the Orleans Parish School Board, SB 432 aims to codify and protect the positive changes that have emerged in New Orleans while insisting on local responsibility for the success of students and schools. SB 432:

Ensures Family Choice

  • Requires all schools to participate in common enrollment
  • Requires that geographic priority will never be a factor in the student assignment for more than 50% of seats in a given school, as is done today
  • Ensures a diversity of school operators by requiring the School Board to set a maximum percentage of enrollment that any single operator of schools or charter governing board may serve

Preserves Charter School Autonomy

  • Prohibits the School Board from limiting a charter school’s autonomy in critical areas: school programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and texts, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring, firing, performance management and evaluation, employment terms and conditions, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement, collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.
  • Protects current funding by sustaining 98 cents on the dollar going directly to the charter school and requiring the School Board to continue to distribute deferred revenues proportionally to schools.

Gives Needed Power to the School Board

Louisiana’s current charter school law limits School Board powers over charter schools. SB 432 overrides parts of the current charter law to give OPSB authority to manage system-wide needs in a district with over 90% of students attending charter schools. SB 432 gives the School Board the authority to:

  • Manage enrollment (EnrollNOLA/OneApp) and seat capacity (adding or reducing seats based on citywide student enrollment needs)
  • Implement a district specific differentiated student funding formula
  • Levy taxes, with voter approval, that can be used for non-school needs and are not shared with schools

Empowers the Superintendent

SB 432 recognizes that in a district of autonomous charter schools, if the Superintendent is to be responsible for the academic performance of the district, the Superintendent must become:

  • The Portfolio Manager: SB 432 allows the Superintendent to make authorizing decisions (charter approvals, extensions, renewals, and revocations) that can only be vetoed by a super majority of the board.
  • The Regulator: The Superintendent is responsible for monitoring charter school compliance with School Board policy and state law and can require corrective actions by a charter without having to go through the School Board.

Protects Students

Recognizing the school district’s obligation to ensure equal access to schools and adequate resources to serve all students, SB 432:

  • Requires all schools to participate in a parish-wide enrollment system and student expulsion process
  • Requires the School Board to adopt and maintain a differentiated funding formula for all schools in future years
SB 432 – The Unification/Return of Schools

In addition to the provisions above, SB 432 mandates that all RSD schools return to OPSB.

How Do Schools Return?

  • RSD schools return as charter schools (Type 3b) with an initial contract term equal to the amount of time remaining on their current Type 5 charter contract.

When Do Schools Return?

  • All schools and RSD functions return to OPSB by July 1, 2018.

What Happens if OPSB Is Not Ready?

SB 432 allows for the possibility that OPSB may not be ready to assume all of the functions the RSD currently performs (e.g., Enrollment, Student Hearing Office, the Youth Opportunity Center, the Special Education Consent Decree).

1. SB 432 creates an advisory committee of 13 voting members empowered to review and evaluate OPSB’s readiness. The committee is made up of:

  • RSD and OSPB Superintendents
  • Four Type 5 representatives: two appointed by the OPSB Superintendent and two appointed by the RSD Superintendent
  • Two Type 1 or Type 3 representatives appointed by the OPSB Superintendent
  • One representative from an OPSB network school appointed by the OPSB Superintendent
  • Two representatives of educational advocacy organizations: one appointed by the OPSB Superintendent and one appointed by the RSD Superintendent
  • Two additional representatives jointly appointed by RSD and OPSB Superintendents

2. SB 432 allows OPSB or BESE on or prior to January 31, 2018 to postpone final transfer for up to one year (no later than July 1, 2019) if approved by majority of members of either board for a number of reasons, including:

  • The OPSB Superintendent and RSD Superintendent provide written certification that it is not feasible to meet the time lines, tasks, and benchmarks established in the plan to effect the return of schools from the RSD to OPSB
  • A majority of advisory committee members petition either board for postponement

Educate Now! supports SB 432, and salutes the city’s Senators for working with diverse constituencies to create a strong framework for the return of the RSD schools and a reimagined Unified School District.