Charter school issue up for vote

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

FERRIDAY — The Concordia Parish School Board will consider a resolution Thursday that could impact the future of a new charter school in Ferriday.

On the way to receiving final approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Delta Charter School must first get input from the school board before opening in 2013.

The resolution regarding the school will be discussed at Thursday’s school board meeting, and Superintendent Paul Nelson said it’s a topic that has led to much discussion among board members and other administrators.

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“Basically, the U.S. Justice Department and the courts want to know our position on the matter before they take a position,” Nelson said. “We’ve talked about this many times before, and the board feels like any publicly funded school in the parish should have the same racial makeup as the public schools.

“Any new school coming in to the area should have to follow the same rules as the school district it’s located in.”

Charter schools are publicly-funded, independently-operated public schools that do not charge tuition or fees, are open to all students who wish to attend and cannot discriminate when making enrollment decisions.

Because Concordia Parish is under desegregation order, any public school within the district must have a 50/50 racial makeup.

Nelson said he’s concerned the charter school won’t follow those stipulations unless there is strict and constant oversight from a federal agency.

“We still kind of hold the position that we don’t think they’ll actually draw many of our students and won’t draw many minority students,” Nelson said. “And because they’re going to be drawing money from us and our taxpayers, we think the rules should apply the same to them as they do to us.”

Delta Charter School administrator and director Clovis Christman said he believes charter schools often get a bad reputation for only enrolling white students.

“Most people that don’t understand charter schools think they’re white private schools, and you’re going to stack them with elite white students from the parish,” Christman said. “That’s not the case, and the court is going to make us have the same demographics as the other schools.”

Ensuring the charter school population has an equal racial makeup is something Christman said he would strive for even without department of justice oversight.

“It kind of comes down to, if you didn’t have to, would you? Absolutely,” Christman said. “I’m going to teach kids, and I don’t care if they’re black, white, Latino — I don’t care.

“I want kids to enroll to have a better future.”

And while a decision by the board isn’t etched in stone, Nelson said he believes the board’s decision will be based on one important condition.

“If there is an absence of a guarantee of federal oversight, we will oppose the resolution,” Nelson said. “The enforcement of the enrollment rules has never been done on the state level, so we need a guarantee of federal oversight.”

The charter school, which is located at the old Huntington School building on Lynwood Drive, will have a math, science and technology curriculum and will initially open for students in kindergarten through ninth grade in 2013.