The International School of Louisiana board of trustees unanimously voted to not recharter its Jefferson Parish campus, leaving hundreds of parents unsure about their children’s educational future.
The campus, located at 8101 Simon Street in Metairie in the former Bunche Middle School building, is chartered through June of 2017. School officials announced their decision to close the campus at a specially-called board meeting Friday evening to a crowd of more than 30 parents.
Melanie Tennyson, director of ISL, said the decision comes after months of failed attempts to communicate with the Jefferson Parish School Board. ISL officials submitted a request to recharter the Simon Street location first in October, then again in November, and made several attempts to correspond with the school board to no avail, Tennyson said.
“Despite all the efforts made by charter management organizations, ISL advocates and the board of trustees, the Jefferson Parish School Board has still not offered any assistance or use of another vacant site,” Tennyson said.
School officials have attempted to find their own facility through real estate brokers and help from private schools, but limited space in the parish has stemmed progress, Tennyson said. The Jefferson campus is not only without a facility for next year, but lacks confirmation from the school board on rechartering.
The campus is also running on a $650,000 deficit, Tennyson said.
“Through conservative and careful consolidation, we hope to get it down to $450,000 by the end of the school year,” she said.
More than half of the crowd expressed frustration with the decision, and several people said they felt disappointed in the board’s choice before the Jefferson Parish School Board meets in February. The future of the Jefferson campus had been uncertain for about two years, but parents said they were always told there would always be a facility available.
Katie Reine, parent of a first grader, encouraged the board to hold off voting until the parish board shuts down the school before the school shut itself down.
“I know it’s disheartening, but we can keep fighting and we shouldn’t give up hope,” she said.
Chantell Reed, ISL board of trustees president, said the lack of a new charter agreement isn’t the only reason for the campus’ shuttering. The school has been running at a deficit for four out of the last five years, which is a “major consideration” for officials, Reed said.
The Jefferson Parish School Board had told ISL two years ago that they did not intend to renew ISL’s lease for the Bunche building. ISL has asked Jefferson Parish to allow it to use the Bunche building for its more than 400 students for one more year while it continues to search, but they did not receive any response before their January board meeting.
“We have been working up until the ninth hour and we are out of time,” Reed said. “We need to make a decision to give you, and us, time to plan.”
Students from the Jefferson campus will be given preference if they choose to move to any of the other three ISL campuses in Orleans Parish: the newly-leased Bethune building – located in Hollygrove – serves grades K-2; the Camp Street campus serves grades 3-8; and the Olivier campus serves grades K-5.
The charter school will not provide transportation for Jefferson Parish students, Tennyson said, since bussing costs can run about $400,000 a year.
Michael Pedalino, board member, proposed a motion to give parents a week to find the perfect solution to keep the campus open.
“You’re putting your kids at risk, but if y’all feel that y’all can come up with an idea, that y’all have some bite in you, then I’m willing to give you a week,” he said.
That motion was opposed by the rest of the board, and a second motion to not renew the school’s charter was passed unanimously.
The Jefferson Parish School Board initially planned to vote on ISL’s rechartering at its January meeting, but pushed the vote to the February agenda. Many ISL parents said they still plan to go to the January meeting to voice their frustrations about the recharter delay as well as the lack of help finding a facility.
The school board meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. at JPPSS Administration Building at 501 Manhattan Blvd. in Harvey.
Reine, parent of a first grader, said she understands why the board voted to shutter the campus. She was holding out hope school officials would find another building in time and said she was surprised at the “finality” of the decision.
Still, she plans to send her son to one of the Orleans Parish schools since he’s so far into the program. ISL students in younger grades learn to read and write in Spanish or French, rather than English. When those students transfer to a non-immersion school, they are generally behind their classmates in English but far ahead in a foreign language.
Because of that delay, Reince said she’s “stuck” with an immersion-school for the next few years.
“There’s not light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Parents of Jefferson campus students with questions about enrollment into one of the Orleans Parish schools can ask administration, and officials will be offering help during the whole transition, Tennyson said.
Though ISL still have three other schools – two in new campuses – Tennyson said losing the Jefferson campus “is really sad.”
“This was a wonderful community of people,” she said. “But I need you to trust that we make the best decision for this school and our students.