RRCA optimistic of BESE approval Dec. 11

Tunica-Biloxi Tribe endorses third charter school for parish

Supporters of the oft-denied Red River Charter Academy are hoping next week’s trip to the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education will be their last.

They will have two busloads of citizens in favor of their request to open a new charter school rolling into Baton Rouge on Dec. 11 for the important vote. Among the proposed school’s supporters this year is a sovereign nation -- the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, based in Marksville.

Another potentially important difference this year is that the Avoyelles Parish School District is no longer under a federal court-supervised desegregation order.

RRCA President Jessica Couvillion said she and other RRCA officials are optimistic they will have at least six, and possibly more, “Aye” votes when BESE’s School Innovations and Turnaround Committee will vote on RRCA’s application on Dec. 11.

The full board may or may not need to discuss the issue at its Dec. 12 meeting, so many of the supporters will be staying in Baton Rouge overnight.

They expect to come home with an early Christmas present -- approval to open a grade 6-8 middle school for the 2019-20 school year.

TRIBE SUPPORTS RRCA

The Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Council adopted a resolution on Nov. 15 supporting RRCA’s charter application.

“There is a great need to provide additional educational opportunities for the children of our community and Avoyelles Parish,” Tribal Chairman Marshall Pierite said. “We look forward to seeing the diverse and challenging curriculum Red River Charter Academy plans to offer as they work to address the needs of our students community wide.

“Our tribe is pleased to offer its support for Red River Charter Academy’s Type 2 Charter application,” he added.

Couvillion said the proposed school is “honored to have the support of the tribe and we are excited they share in our vision for the students of Avoyelles Parish.”

She said children “deserve every opportunity to succeed, and Red River Charter Academy will offer students the chance to receive a top-level education that will prepare them for whatever they want to do in life.

“We want to prepare kids to make our community a better place,” Couvillion continued, “and the future begins now with how we teach them and what they learn.”

SERIES OF DENIALS

RRCA’s application for a Type 1 charter -- a school approved by the local school board and part of the local school system -- has been denied five times. It has been denied six times counting the board’s refusal in January 2017 to negotiate with RRCA and reconsider its denial.

The board’s impartial evaluator recommended approval three times and was disregarded by the board each time.

RRCA has gone to BESE five times to request being approved as a Type 2 charter -- an independent public charter school authorized by the state -- and has been recommended for approval by BESE’s independent evaluator each of the last four years.

BESE denied the application the first two years.

RRCA fell one vote short of being approved two years ago when the board tied on a 5-5-1 vote. In that vote, BESE President Dr. Gary Jones abstained, citing a conflict of interest because he was hired by the Avoyelles School Board as its desegregation consultant.

RRCA withdrew its application prior to a BESE vote last year to avoid being portrayed as the “bad guy” in case the final push to end court-supervised desegregation was derailed.

U.S. District Judge Dee Drell dismissed the 50-year-old desegregation case on Oct. 17 -- the same day of the BESE meeting in Baton Rouge where the charter application was initially set to be discussed.

The dismissal of the desegregation suit removes Jones’ conflict of interest -- but it doesn’t necessarily predict which way his now-liberated vote will fall.

VOTE DELAYED

Charter applications are usually considered at BESE’s October meeting, but this was postponed by two months.

Cynics suggested the reason was to see the results of the Avoyelles School Board elections. Eight of the nine seats have been decided. A runoff between two political newcomers for the final seat will be decided this Saturday (Dec. 8). There will only be two incumbents returning from the previous board.

“It is the mission of Red River Charter Academy to prepare a diverse group of students for post-secondary success through rigorous academics and character development,” Couvillion said. “We aim to provide a tuition-free public charter school to serve students in grades 6-8 at the start.”

The plan is to add a high school grade each year until it is a grade 6-12 high school.

“RRCA will provide the surrounding communities with a neighborhood school of choice for underserved communities and underperforming school districts, providing students with the skills they need to succeed in post-secondary education,” she added. 

School Board members have said a third charter school -- especially an independent charter school -- could force the district to take “drastic measures” due to a reduction in state Minimum Foundation Program funds that would follow students to the new school instead of coming to the public school system.

Charter advocates note the public school district would not have the cost of educating the students enrolled in the charter school, so the financial impact should not be significant. They also predict that some students currently attending non-public schools or home schooled would choose a tuition-free public charter school if another one was available.

Couvillion said RRCA officials would prefer the school be centrally located in the parish, with the Mansura area being the favored area.

There has been talk of the school moving into the closed Mansura High/Middle School complex, but Couvillion said the School Board would have to agree to sell it to RRCA “and that doesn’t seem likely.”

If the school is approved by BESE, there is undeveloped property in the Mansura area that could be purchased to build a new school, she noted.

RRCA officials also have other possible site locations in other areas of the parish.

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