The Latest on School Facility Assignments
By: Tara ONeill | January 4, 2011
While we were all busy celebrating the holidays with family and friends, the Recovery School District (RSD) managed to slip a little something extra into our stockings: a new draft facilities assignment plan and public meetings to solicit feedback. This is a welcome step toward providing clarity for schools and their surrounding communities about where school programs will be located long term.
As you may remember, the RSD released the first set of assignments in August 2010. At that time, the Cowen Institute wrote about the issues that needed further consideration by the RSD, BESE, and OPSB. This latest version of the draft assignment plan replaces the previous version.
This draft assignment plan provides some level of information for every RSD school. We recognize that it is a huge undertaking to make these assignments. Trying to balance the needs and desires of so many schools is a tall order, made all the more difficult by the fact that many construction and renovation projects will not be complete for years.
As a reader it can be somewhat overwhelming trying to make sense of all of the assignment recommendations, given the number of school programs and facilities that have to be assigned. As I went through the draft assignments, I took many notes, and I thought I’d share them. It should be noted that in reviewing the assignment plan, I did not try to evaluate the appropriateness of individual building assignments. School leaders, teachers, students, and parents are in the best position to determine whether the assignment in the draft plan suits their needs. Rather, I tried to identify schools that still face significant challenges or uncertainty under this assignment plan.
Below is my list of some items to keep your eye on when the final version of the assignment plan is released by the RSD on January 31st and presented to BESE in February.
- Several schools are assigned to buildings that are listed as landbanked in the original school facilities master plan. The “permanent buildings” assigned to Banneker Elementary, Cohen High, Green Charter School, John McDonogh High, KIPP Renaissance, McDonogh City Park Academy, Schwarz Academy, SciTech Academy, and O.P. Walker High are all scheduled to be landbanked in the master plan. Additionally, Dibert Elementary is in a building that is currently scheduled to be landbanked; however, its permanent building is listed as “TBD.” Schools on the landbanked list do not currently have any funding budgeted for their renovation. The RSD should discuss possible alternatives for ensuring that any building that is removed from the landbanked list meets the same standards as other buildings under the master plan.
- Several schools that are currently in modular campuses will be there for several years. Abramson Science and Technology Charter School is scheduled to move into a new building during Phase 2 of the master plan. Akili Academy and Intercultural Charter School are scheduled to move into permanent facilities during Phase 2 or Phase 4. Sci Academy is listed as having a few options for locations, none of which is secured at this point. The RSD has stated that moving students out of modular buildings is the top priority for Phase 1 of the plan. If it is not possible to complete this by the end of Phase 1, the RSD should outline the steps that are required to ensure that it happens as quickly as possible.
- Three school programs have no permanent facility assignment: Hope Academy, Lagniappe Academies, and Sojourner Truth Academy. Hope Academy is currently in the Booker T. Washington Annex, which is going to be demolished. Lagniappe Academies is currently in modular buildings. Both of these programs need to be assigned to permanent locations. Sojourner Truth is currently located in a leased facility. While the draft assignment recommendation says that Sojourner Truth’s current building can be “converted to long-term RSD high school space if needed” no further details are provided; specifically, no mention of the financial impacts of such an arrangement are given.
- Three programs are assigned to OPSB facilities: Clark High, Johnson Elementary, and Sophie B. Wright Charter School. Only one of these schools is currently in the building that is listed as its permanent building. No details are provided indicating what, if any, long-term arrangement has been reached with the OPSB about these schools.
- Additionally, three programs have a particularly high degree of uncertainty around their building assignments: Capdau Elementary, Morris Jeff Community School, and A.P. Tureaud Elementary. The lack of clarity around these schools’ permanent assignments seems to be driven by the desire of the RSD to work with the respective school communities to find the facility that best suits their individual needs. We hope that a final decision on building assignment can be reached as quickly as possible for the benefit of everyone associated with these schools.
- As before, this assignment plan lists the ACRES/Audubon Institute site and the NASA site as Phase 1 schools. The master plan, as adopted in 2008, includes these two schools in Phase 2, unless external funding is secured. Until the source of such funding is identified, we believe these schools should continue to be listed as Phase 2 schools.
- Lastly, it is troublesome that the RSD has once again put out an assignment plan independently, rather than working with the OPSB. When the master plan was developed, everyone agreed that the best way to serve the students of New Orleans was to plan for the entire city without making distinctions between the RSD and the OPSB. Because the locations and sizes of the buildings to be built were decided without regard to the two districts, it is important that the decisions about school assignments be made in the same manner. We once again call on the RSD to work with the OPSB to develop a comprehensive assignment plan.
According to the latest information released by the RSD, it appears that over half of the schools listed in this document have permanent assignments that are feasible and that are stable, while many other school assignments have issues that must still be addressed. Unfortunately, it seems that it is impossible to truly level the playing field with respect to facilities at this point. Many schools are currently located in buildings that are in relatively good condition and that are in locations that serve their students well. In some cases, that is because these schools were existing schools that reopened shortly after the storm; in other cases, these schools were merely lucky. At this stage, however, we must take into account population distribution across the city in determining where to build new buildings. This means that some schools are facing the prospect of moving out of their existing neighborhoods because there is no more capacity in their current neighborhoods. Others are facing the prospect of staying in buildings that are not currently scheduled to be renovated. In light of this, it is even more important that we determine assignments for all schools and then take the steps to make sure that all buildings that will house school programs are ready to serve 21st century students.