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EBR's Katrina Moment


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two days before East Baton Rouge Parish public schools went on spring break, our new (and hotly contested) superintendent, Dr. Sito Narcisse, announced that EBR public schools would not abide by the 2021-22 school calendar just recently approved by the board. He declared schools would instead resume two weeks early, which would require teachers to report for duty on July 19th and students to class on July 28th. Superintendent Narcisse announced this proposal as if the decision had already been made, but in reality the school board still must approve his proposal. And though it appears that a majority of school board members are prepared to do so, there’s good reasons why they shouldn’t.

Honestly, Supt. Narcisse’s argument in support of the early start—that it’s “good for students”—is so flimsy, I don’t have the patience to refute it. His argument is just an empty claim unsupported by solid reasoning or credible evidence. However, many others have taken the time to refute it, and they have done so with logical arguments and peer reviewed research. Bless them. If you’re inclined to believe Supt. Narcisse’s position has any merit, then please seek out the thoughtful arguments made in opposition to his proposal.

For this post I’m inclined to ignore Supt. Narcisse’s inane narrative that has been manufactured to obfuscate the real threat this proposal creates. The real threat lies in this telling detail which isn’t getting sufficient attention: Charter schools in East Baton Rouge Parish are not required to abide by this mandated early start. Supt. Narcisse acknowledged that in a recent radio program. The freedom to avoid the early start date will likely spur the further proliferation of charter schools, particularly ones that will serve middle and upper income families. It may even provide the impetus for some of the high-performing magnets to “pull the parent trigger” and convert to charter.

If you’ve been following education issues, then you know that charter schools are governed by unelected boards. This is essentially a return to the school governance structure akin to that which existed during Jim Crow. It’s a governance structure that allows the diversion of local tax dollars to flow out of the community and into the coffers of national and multinational companies—a new version of redlining. (I’ll post some links in the comment to support these claims.)

Some might be inclined to believe that promoting the proliferation of charter schools is an unintended consequence of this proposal. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s unintended. I should mention that I’ve been advocating on behalf of public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish for a very long time. I first became involved in 2012 when I joined with other parents to fight against the breakaway school district. For nine years, I have followed the issues, conducted a great deal of research, and spoken with many people: elected officials and community leaders and business folks, and the friends of elected officials, community leaders, and business folks.

My assessment is based on my years of experience as an education advocate and my familiarity with these issues. And my assessment is that this proposal for an early start is not designed to serve the best interests of children. It is designed to further the proliferation of charter schools. It is designed to serve as a final step in the creation of a school model Chris Meyer, CEO of New Schools for Baton Rouge and former Recovery School District administrator, has been promoting since 2014 when he first disseminated a white paper entitled, “BR Portfolio System of Schools Concept.” This is East Baton Rouge Parish’s Katrina moment.

What do I mean by "Katrina moment"? After Hurricane Katrina when the financial interests behind charter schools saw that the New Orleans public school system was going to receive a massive amount of federal funds, funds which could have been used to restore a public system neglected for decades, they went into overdrive to ensure that the majority of schools were chartered. That’s how funds that could have been invested in publicly-owned infrastructure that would have benefitted the city for decades were instead diverted via charter schools into the coffers of private businesses, most of which are owned by white millionaires and billionaires.

We are at a similar moment now in East Baton Rouge Parish. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, and the clients they lobby for are aware of the federal COVID bailout dollars heading to the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. They knew last year they needed a pro-charter superintendent who shared their mission to create a separate and unequal system—a charter school system governed by unelected boards and a public school system to serve the most vulnerable students on scarce resources. Like the school system in Washington D.C., where Superintendent Narcisse recently worked.

That’s what this early start is about. Even if it isn’t, it’s still a bad idea.


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