Roemer backs Neville charter
by Zach Parker - posted Thursday, January 31st, 2013 @ 12:01 am
The president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education pledged his support Wednesday for Neville High School to convert to a charter school.
Chas Roemer said converting Neville into a charter was an economic development issue. He said Neville plays a significant role in the community where its strong alumni base supports the change.
"If you look at the potential growth of jobs in that area, then it's important that Neville continues to be a star in that community," Roemer said. "I think that chartering the school might be the best approach."
"I am concerned we may have lost sight of what's in the best interest of kids and also what's in the best interest of the parish," Roemer added.
Roemer offered his remarks Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Ouachita Citizen. His comments were in response to questions concerning the ongoing spat between the Neville Alumni & Friends Association and Monroe City Schools officials. Roemer specifically commented on NAFA's decision to pursue a review of how school system officials handled a vote on whether Neville should proceed with a charter application with BESE. NAFA is spearheading the effort to convert Neville into a charter.
Neville High School staff and faculty voted Jan. 18 not to pursue a Type-2 charter designation for the high school. A Type-2 charter designation would have resulted in Neville working directly under BESE and free of Monroe City Schools.
Last week, NAFA's charter board, known as the Neville Charter Board, voted to file a letter of formal complaint with BESE as well as with the state Department of Education. The board took issue with remarks that were made to the voting faculty by Monroe City Schools Interim Superintendent Derenda Flowers while she held a closed-door meeting before the vote.
"We intend to file a letter of formal complaint with BESE and the state DOE hopefully this week," said Ronnie Shelby, NAFA's charter board.
"Nothing may come from it, but we want to go on record," he said.
Shelby said Flowers misconstrued NAFA's intentions for Neville.
"There were wrong accusations about what actions we intended to take and we were not allowed to make a rebuttal," Shelby said. "We feel like those negative statements could very well have impacted the vote of teachers who were on the fence."
Flowers did not return repeated Citizen telephone calls seeking comment.
Roemer said he was distressed over what has transpired with the effort to convert Neville into a charter school. He has plans to pay a visit to Monroe as soon as Thursday, Feb. 7, to meet with stakeholders on both sides of the Neville charter issue.
"I think it's critical that this issue is resolved properly," Roemer said. "I want to be more involved in what's happening. I'm going to ask DOE about it. I'm going to talk to the charter board members, the local School Board members and the superintendent about it."
Roemer said school children, not the school system, come first.
"It comes down to efforts over protecting a school system over protecting the kids in a community," Roemer said. "There's a long history of status quo folks who resist change."
"We need to make sure that's not what's happening here," Roemer added.
Shelby said the Neville Charter Board believes erroneous accusations were aired to Neville faculty and staff, such as the charter effort would lead to the termination of all cafeteria workers, janitorial workers and transportation employees as erroneous.
"We weren't going to terminate any of them," Shelby said. "We actually sat down and negotiated terms with the school district in July 2012 and had agreed upon reimbursement terms. Flowers was in the room at that time negotiating with Kimberly Williams (charter evaluator). So how she could have told the staff something different is beyond me."
The Neville Charter Board never intended to drop the faculty and staff's accrual of sick days either, according to Shelby.
Shelby said the Neville Charter Board originally approached the School Board to see if the city school system would assume the liability for the sick days since they were accrued during Neville's time in the Monroe city school system.
"But the School Board didn't want to do that so instead, we decided not to upset anyone by assuming the liability ourselves," Shelby said. "We decided to assume the risk of any sick leave faculty and staff currently have and they had to use any of it before their retirement, we would compensate them for it ourselves."
Shelby pointed out that there was a threat about immediately losing all Internet and grading software if the charter was approved but the Neville Charter Board would never let that occur.
"Those things are the lifeblood of a teacher and while we may not have gone with the School Board's plan, we would have transitioned into our own service," Shelby said. "It's like moving a house or business. You get your utilities transferred ahead of time. The idea that faculty and staff would go without it for a single minute is just totally wrong."
Sam Hanna Jr., publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.