DayeTime: Dog catches car -- now what?

Time for Red River Charter to do more than bark

There’s this dog that I believe belongs to a house just down the highway from mine. I believe that because that’s where I found my daughter’s boots that she had set outside to dry out after she stepped in a deeper-than-it-looked puddle during the recent heavy rains.

Well, this dog has apparently made it his mission to drive me crazy -- which would cost about 50 cents at today’s gasoline prices -- by threatening me when I get into my car and then chasing me out of my driveway, barking to beat the band.

The other morning I stopped abruptly, opened my door, and asked the dog “What are you going to do with it now that you’ve caught it?”

The apparently pit bull mix sat down, looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and allowed me to close the door and proceed on my way unmolested.

Unfortunately, this trick only works once.

I tell this dog tale not to point out the need for a parishwide animal control program with a large -- maybe very large -- shelter for such beasts. That is another issue for another day.

Nay, verily, the point to be made is that a barking dog has finally caught its car. Now we will see what Red River Charter will do with it.

For five years, supporters of RRCA have been barking “choice,” “quality,” “D and F schools,” etc., in their quest to be granted permission to open a new charter school.

The Avoyelles School Board consistently refused to grant RRCA permission to open as a LaSAS-type charter school within the local school system, so RRCA sought to become another Avoyelles Public Charter-type school by seeking a charter from the Board of Elementary Education.

BESE dodged that decision by saying it didn’t want to approve a new charter school in this parish until the Avoyelles Parish School District was declared “unitary” by the federal court.

That occurred this past October. Last week BESE handed the car keys to the dog.

RRCA supporters believe they will be able to jump in the driver’s seat and travel a smooth road of educational quality.

Opponents secretly -- or maybe not so secretly -- hope the new charter drives off into a ditch in short order or, at the very least, has to navigate through a minefield of potholes in its new car.

Scaremongers predict a fiery crash that will destroy the entire public school system.

I, being a realist, expect the reality will be somewhere between smooth and potholes.

Red River will start as a middle school, for grades 6-8, and will add a grade every year.

In its first school year it will have an enrollment of about 162. It will add about 50 students a year until it is a grade 6-12 high school.

As of the day after being granted the right to open, 800 students’ “pre-applications” are in the RRCA database. About 700 of those are still viable from years past -- students who would be able to enroll next year or in a year after that. About 100 more pre-apps flooded in after the BESE approval.

The school will need eight teachers in its first year. Dozens of teachers had previously expressed an interest in working at the new school if it was ever approved.

In the 48 hours after BESE approval, RRCA board members received at least 20 serious inquiries from teachers interested in working at RRCA next school year.

School organizers plan to have a full range of sports for students -- including football.

The Red River Gators -- the current favorite in the name-the-mascot race (I prefer Red River Raiders, but I don’t get a vote) -- won’t take to the gridiron, ballpark or gymnasium until at least the 2022 or 2023 season, when it has enough high school students to qualify for LHSAA certification.

School officials said they will offer student athletes the opportunity to play unsanctioned sports, such as intramural flag football or to scrimmage area teams in “practice” games.

There are still a few questions to answer about the future of Red River.

First, will it trade its “golden ticket” as an independent public school to become a Type 1 charter within the school system?

My understanding of the economics of that decision are that it really wouldn’t save the school district much money. The state funds would still follow the students to the charter school, just as they do to LaSAS.

Some RRCA officials say they believe they can help improve education for ALL students if they operate within the school district.

Others counter that if the School Board is willing to accept outside help, RRCA could still have a positive impact on the public school system -- assuming their methods and programs really are better than the ones being utilized in the traditional schools.

There are seven new board members who will take office in January. Two of those also serve on the RRCA Board, so they would not be able to vote to accept the new school as the district’s fifth high school.

That wouldn’t stop them from “horse trading” with other board members to get the votes needed to make that happen -- assuming that is what RRCA wants.

The last time board members “negotiated” with RRCA, they insisted the new charter start with 7th grade and not 6th. School officials’ research found that beginning with 6th grade yields greater success, but they accepted the demand.

The School Board refused to take “yes” for an answer and demanded other concessions, which were also accepted by RRCA officials.

The School Board eventually admitted it had no intention of approving a charter for Red River.

Before the new charter gives up its independence, it needs to be sure of any conditions the School Board might impose -- and watch out for anyone trying to put sugar in its gas tank or a potato in its exhaust pipe.

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