Avoyelles School Board says ‘No’ to Red River Charter

Fourth time in four years; disregards evaluator's recommendation for approval

For the fourth time in four years, the Avoyelles Parish School Board has rejected an application to allow Red River Charter Academy (RRCA) to open in the parish.

The application will now go back to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which has refused to approve the application three times.

The board went against an independent evaluator’s recommendation. Ten Square recommended the proposed school be approved. RRCA President Jessica Couvillion asked the board to follow the evaluator’s recommendation.

The board’s discussion quickly shifted from the issue of why to approve or reject the application and focused instead on the cost of paying for the evaluator. That cost was $10,000 in the previous three years and $5,000 for this evaluation.

Board member Mike Lacombe brought the issue up, saying the board was required by law to hire the evaluator.

Brad Augustine, a supporter of RRCA, agreed there is a law concerning the charter school application process, but added there is no penalty for disregarding that law.

The only penalty a local board would face would be that the applicant would be able to go straight to BESE and skip the local application process. If a local board follows the law and reviews a charter application and denies it, the applicant can then appeal to BESE for approval to operate as an independent public charter school within that parish.

RRCA attorney Alissa Tassin said Red River was willing to stipulate that the board did not have to spend public money for an evaluator. RRCA officials had indicated they knew the board’s denial was a foregone conclusion and that another independent evaluation would not affect the board’s decision on the matter.

District Attorney Charles Riddle told board members that failing to follow a state law could open board members to censure for severe ethical violations by the state even if there is no specified penalty in the law for non-compliance.

BESE Chairman Gary Jones, who is also the district’s desegregation consultant, told board members to follow the law.

“I will never knowingly break the law,” Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said. “I will always follow the law.”

Tassin was upset that RRCA was not provided the opportunity to respond to the evaluator’s draft recommendation prior to the final recommendation being presented to the board. She noted that state law also requires the board to give the applicant that chance.

Following discussion, the board voted 5-2 to deny the application. Darrell Wiley, James Gauthier, Mike Lacombe, Van Kojis and John Gagnard voted for the denial while Shelia Blackman-Dupas and Lizzie Ned voted against the motion. Freeman Ford and APSB President Chris LaCour were absent.

It was the first board meeting in five months for Blackman-Dupas, who received a kidney transplant in December.

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