Emotions Run High Over Post-Katrina School Districting
Boisterous crowd debates future governance of New Orleans schools
NEW ORLEANS – On Thursday night more than 600 people gathered at McDonogh #35 High School to debate whether and how the Recovery School District’s 68 schools ought to return to Orleans Parish School Board control. Over 80 people testified on State Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s transfer plan in an environment that was divisive and racially charged.
The standing-room-only audience (pictured above) – approximately 200 people had to be turned away – was testament to the contentiousness of school governance in post-Katrina New Orleans. For more than three hours, attendees heard a range of conflicting assertions regarding the success or failure and legality of the Recovery School District versus the Orleans Parish School Board.
The key issue up for debate was Pastorek’s recommendation that some RSD schools, after five years under state control, have the option to return to the local OPSB. Such schools would need to reach “an acceptable academic level and [be] on a stable and upward course for academic success.” Within the RSD, charter school boards and parents and staff of conventional government schools could then vote to return to OPSB. The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would then give final approval, with stipulations, for transfer.
Responses were broadly divided between calls for an immediate return of all RSD schools to the OPSB and calls for an across-the-board renewal of the five-year program. Each faction gave raucous applause, contrary to the wishes of Chas Roemer, the evening’s moderator and BESE board member, and almost all speakers went over their allotted 90 seconds.
Pastorek witnessed a “deeper level of expression” of the sentiment in the community, although they were primarily “ideas I had already heard.” He recognized that “people have developed a certain confidence about the way things have worked in the RSD, and they don’t have that same confidence about the OPSB. I think that’s one of the big challenges.”