WWNO, in collaboration with The Lens, presents candidate forums for the upcoming Orleans Parish School Board election on November 6.
On this week's program, moderator Jessica Williams first speaks with candidates from District 3, including Brett Bonin, Karran Harper Royal, and Sarah Usdin. Then she'll speak with candidates from District 6, including Jason Coleman and Woody Koppel.
- Brett Bonin, attorney (incumbent, Republican)
- Karran Harper Royal, advocate for special-needs students (no party affiliation)
- Sarah Usdin, founder of New Schools For New Orleans, a nonprofit that provides funding and support for charter schools (Democrat)
Bonin and Royal took a considerable amount of their speaking time to turn attention to Usdin’s nonprofit, New Schools for New Orleans.
Eight of the nine schools first incubated by the charter school support organization are underperforming academically, and one — Sojourner Truth Academy — has closed due to poor performance, Bonin said.
Usdin responded that prior to Hurricane Katrina, the average school performance score for the Orleans Parish School Board’s traditionally run schools was 49. Schools funded by her organization scored an average of 71, she said. She also said that overall, the Recovery School District’s schools had achieved one of the highest rates of academic growth in the state. (This discussion occurs at the 2:07 and 9:30 marks in the video below.)
The three candidates had different views on whether schools should switch to school-board governance and how they should go about doing it. Royal said that if elected, she would ask the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to let the Orleans board oversee RSD’s failing schools.
If charters are failing, they shouldn’t be re-chartered to a different operator, she said; they should come back as traditionally run schools. (This discussion occurs at 3:26.)
Bonin took a moderate approach, saying that schools should come back, but it doesn’t matter whether they’re charters or traditionally run. Usdin said that there must be citizen, educator and parent input on the issue before that decision is made. She added that “a parent doesn’t care, a child doesn’t care” whether charter schools are under RSD or the School Board. (This discussion occurs at 6:28.)
- Woody Koppel, real-estate agent and former teacher (incumbent, Democrat)
- Jason Coleman, Democratic Party official and member of the Coleman Cab company family (Democrat)
Koppel and Coleman agreed on most issues, including how the school board can best work to get charters to switch to school board governance. The school board needs to “earn (charters’) respect,” Koppel said. Coleman also said that schools “need a reason” to come back.
Both candidates cited autonomy as one of charter schools’ strengths, although they had different opinions on their weaknesses. Koppel said that many charter school boards haven’t always followed open meetings laws and that schools’ budgets weren’t always clear. (This discussion starts at the 5:58 mark.)
Lack of community input has been one of charters’ main weaknesses, Coleman said. He cited the recent parent and student unrest at Walter L. Cohen High School as evidence. He also mentioned that parents were upset when “Sophie B. Wright’s charter was taken away” — although the school has not had its charter revoked. The state education board did revoke the charter of Sojourner Truth Academy, which was housed in a nearby building, last year. (Watch at the 8:25 mark for this discussion.)
Asked whether the school board should reinstate collective bargaining for teachers at its schools, Koppel said the decision not to pursue an agreement with the teachers’ union was made before he was elected, and “it hasn’t come up since.” He then said that a collective bargaining agreement could infringe on charters’ autonomy. (This discussion occurs at 14:15.)
Coleman said that schools should have collective bargaining, but then went on to talk about the structure of the school system and a return to school board governance, rather than about how an agreement would work. He later said that educators should be given what they need in the classroom.