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Public Schools Post-Katrina


Those in charge first take care of their own;  Then they make rules for the others.
 
--Public Service, New Orleans style

A Tale of Three Schools
 
While the National Guard was deployed to gut church school buildings and FEMA money was used to upgrade an exclusive uptown school,1 one of Lakeview's proudest traditions—Edward Hynes Public School—remains as it had been when the floodwaters accompanying Katrina receded nearly two years ago.  Simply calling those responsible for allocating public resources "buffoons" does not do justice to the arrogant behavior of those entrusted with the task of reconstructing hurricane-devastated neighborhoods such as Lakeview.  As chairman of the Education Committee of Mayor Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back (BNOB) commission, Tulane University President Scott Cowen bears much responsibility for decisions that determine which schools will succeed and which will fail. The future of most public schools in New Orleans appears bleak.  Lakeview residents who are committed to public education must bus their children out of the neighborhood to temporary alternative sites.  Others will simply enroll their children into one of the parochial schools operated by the neighborhood's two major churches: St. Dominic's Catholic Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church, which have private sources of support in addition to the public resources they are allowed through faith-based initiatives.

The incursion of the church into the domain of public schools appears to be on the rise along with the chartering of public schools.  An example is the partnership that was formed between the St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church (SCAPC) and Lusher Charter High School soon after the latter was created.2

Eventually, plans were made to rebuild Edwards Hynes Public School and reopen it in 2009 as a privatized, charter school.3

Senator David Vitter (R-La) has moved FEMA to waive the requirement that its grants to private schools be reduced by the amount of payment they received from flood insurance, stating: "South Louisiana has a great tradition of many Catholic and other private nonprofit schools ... This agreement will provide millions of dollars to these worthy institutions ..." 4  In addition, Louisiana's new Republican Governor, Bobby Jindal, favors a state income tax deduction for parents of private school students5 and has laid the groundwork for vouchers to parochial schools.6

The New Orleans NAACP and the United Teachers of New Orleans have expressed vigorous opposition to the voucher measure.7  However, passage of the voucher measure appears certain.8  The state's penchant for using public monies to assist parochial schools is further exemplified by a proposed $75,000 state grant to benefit the approximately 40 children cared for by Catholic Charities of New Orleans.9  Tulane University, which will control how the money is spent, is apparently a partner in this process.9  The program was set to launch July 14, 2008.10  Not surprisingly, 31 of the 32 schools that received vouchers are parochial.11  Public assistance for church-related activities is widely accepted.  Thus far, FEMA has reimbursed the archdiocese $35 million for storm-related damage, and more is expected.12

In 2008, Governor Jindal signed a bill that provided a state tax deduction of 50% of the tuition and fees paid to private schools.13  In 2009, Senate Bill 146, introduced by Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans), would make churches eligible to receive public funding by participating in the state's charter school program.14  In 2010, Governor Jindal proposed $8 million for vouchers, worth about $7,400 apiece, for children starting kindergarten.  Of the 34 private schools participating in the program, 32 are church-related.15  At the same time, in 2009-2010, $250 million was cut from Louisiana's public colleges and universities,16 prompting a protest march by students, faculty and staff at the Lakefront campus of the University of New Orleans.17  In 2010, the availability of federal money to create even more charter schools in New Orleans,18 prompted a complaint that the number of public schools was insufficient to meet the needs of disadvantaged students.19  In 2012, an "unprecedented" statewide expansion of the private school voucher program was proposed by Governor Bobby Jindal.20


“This is a national agenda to do away with public education as we know it. ... I hope that we are not destroying something we all grew up with.” 21
Rogers Pope
State Representative
(R-Denham Springs)

“All in all, the Jindal legislation is the most far-reaching attempt in the nation to de-fund, dismantle and obliterate public education.” 22
Diane Ravitch
Research Professor of Education
New York University

In response to the draconian measures being imposed on teachers by Gov. Jindal's administration in the name of "reform," teachers responded first by rallying at the state capital23 and then by filing lawsuits intended to block implementation of the new laws.24  Among the measures taken by Gov. Jindal to privatize education at the public's expense is his approval of legislation that provides generous tax rebates to individuals who donate to nonprofit groups that provide private school scholarships.  He simultaneously vetoed legislation that would provide tax rebates to individuals who would donate to low-performing schools.25

Another of Jindal's new policies will enable students, starting in 2013, to use tax dollars that would otherwise flow to their schools to take courses offered by private entities.26  At the same time, about 200 public school teachers in New Orleans were scheduled to be laid off.27  On November 30, 2012, State District Judge Tim Kelley of Baton Rouge declared that the diversion of funds from the Minimum Foundation Program (the formula under which per pupil public education funds are determined) to private entities was unconstitutional.28  Nevertheless, a significant portion of public funds has been used to support the voucher programs of parochial schools where fundamentalist principles of creationism has replaced the teaching of evolution to Louisiana's children.29  By 2015, critics had declared the charter school system a failure,30-31 an assessment supported by a subsequent study.32


1Of $52 million in FEMA money made available for all New Orleans schools, $16 million was used to renovate the Alcee Fortier High School building for upper grades of the Tulane-affiliated Lusher Charter School.  See: American Federation of Teachers, "NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY: How the New Orleans School Takeover Experiment Devalues Experienced Teachers," (PDF) Washington, DC, June 2007, ref. 38, p. 34, http://www.aft.org/presscenter/releases/downloads/NoExperReport_07.pdf, accessed 06/22/07.

2SCAPC's alliance with Lusher High School provides an opportunity for us to become active participants in the post-Katrina renewal of public education in Orleans Parish. See: The View from St. Charles, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, June, 2006, p. 7, http://www.scapc.org/the view/june06.pdf, accessed 10/28/07.

3Darran Simon, "School razing signals fresh start; FEMA to finance work at five sites," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 20, 2007, National, p. 1.  Actual construction was rescheduled to begin January, 2010.  See: Katy Reckdahl, "Red tape choking N.O., citizens lament; Lakeview addresses city's troubles," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, November 15, 2009, Metro, p. B-1.

4Bruce Alpert, "On the Hill; News from the Louisiana delegation in the nation's capital; Vitter secures waiver for private schools," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 9, 2008, National, p. 15.

5Robert Travis Scott, "Jindal backs tuition tax break; Blanco vetoed similar measure last year," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 9, 2008, National, p. 1.  See also: Ed Anderson and Robert Travis Scott, "Jindal 'bats a thousand' at session; Private tuition break among bills to pass," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 15, 2008, National, p. 1.  See also: Sarah Carr and Bill Barrow, "School plan starts war of words; Jindal avoids calling it voucher program," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 3, 2008, National, p. 1.

6Bill Barrow, "Catholic schools in voucher talks; Pilot state program would assist 3,000," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 12, 2008, National, p. 2.   [Note: In Orleans Parish, approximately 33,000 students attend public schools; the Archdiocese enrolls about 41,000 students.]  See also: Bill Barrow, "Tuition plan aired for N.O. pupils; La. aid would start in '08-'09 school year," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 24, 2008, National, p. 2.  See also: Bill Barrow, "House backs N.O. tuition grant program; Bill expected to have easier time in Senate," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 15, 2008, National, p. 2.  [The Archdiocese of New Orleans will accommodate 500 students; no private school will be required to accept special-needs students.]

7"Briefing Book; News and views from the Louisiana Capitol" ... Voicing opposition," ... The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 6, 2008, National, p. 3.

8Bill Barrow, "Voucher proposal passes in Senate; Tuition would be paid for some N.O. students," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 12, 2008, National, p. 1.

9Allen Powell II, "Tulane could help overhaul Hope Haven; Grant would upgrade foster care facility," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 26, 2008, New Orleans Picayune, p. 5.

10Sarah Carr, "School vouchers offered in N.O.; Application process begins on Monday," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 12, 2008, Metro, p. 1.  See also: Darran Simon, "1,250 N.O. families sign up for private school vouchers; Scholarship notices to go out by July 31, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 20, 2008, National, p. 1.

11Harry Greenberger, "Church-state issues looming," [Letter] The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 23, 2008, Metro, p. 6.

12Bruce Nolan, "Catholic church tallies up storm cost," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 27, 2008, National, p. 1.

13Stephen Maloney, "Public schools in Louisiana shrug off private school tax break," New Orleans CityBusiness, April 2, 2008, Government Activity, News.

14"Briefing Book; News and views from the Louisiana Capitol ... Faith in Charters," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 17, 2009, National, p. 6.

15Sarah Carr, "Families can apply for tuition vouchers; Program pays cost for private school," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 16, 2010, Metro, p. 1.  Public support of parochial schools appears to be widespread in Louisiana.  For example, in 2010 the St. Joseph Catholic School in Shreveport, La. received $27,000 from the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide take-home computers for its sixth-grade students.  See: Mary Nash-Wood, "St. Joseph incorporates iPads to improve literacy," Southeast Voices, Shreveport, La., December 15, 2010, p. 5.

16Jan Moller, "Budget chairman warns colleges of further cuts; Federal stimulus dollars will run out," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 24, 2010, National, p. 2.

17John Pope, "UNO Students stage protest against budget cutbacks; LSU system says more cuts expected," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 24, 2010, Metro, p. 3.

18Cindy Chang, "Charter incubator to receive $28 million; Grant to extend efforts in N.O., Tennessee," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 7, 2010, Metro, p. 3.

19James V. Blasi, "Disabled students deserve good schools" [Letter] The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, August 6, 2010, Metro, p. 6.

20Andrew Vanacore, "Jindal set to push for more vouchers; He also wishes to limit teacher tenure," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 4, 2012, National, p. 1.  See also: Andrew Vanacore, "Charter, voucher systems loom large; Jindal's plan has little teacher security," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 18, 2012, National, p. 1.  See also: Andrew Vanacore, "BESE identifies vouchers funding; It will tap into pool for public schools," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, February 28, 2012, Metro, p. 1.  See also: Bill Barrow, "Charter, voucher bills clear House committee; Teachers pack Capitol for nearly 11 hours of debate," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 15, 2012, National, p. 1.

21Bill Barrow, "Jindal school bills win final passage; They could remake education in state," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 6, 2012, National, p. 1.

22Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove, "On the Hill; News from the Louisiana delegation in the nations's capital; Louisiana school reforms praised, panned," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 13, 2012, National, p. 20.

23"Teachers rally continues into its second day," The Shreveport Times, Shreveport, March 15, 2012, http://www.shreveporttimes.com/..., accessed 03/20/2012.  See also: "Louisiana Senate panel approves Jindal-backed teacher tenure bill," The Shreveport Times, Shreveport, March 15, 2012, http://www.shreveporttimes.com/..., accessed 03/20/2012.

24Bill Barrow, "Teachers file state lawsuits challenging Gov. Jindal's voucher, tenure laws," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 7, 2012, http://blog.nola.com/..., accessed 06/07/2012.

25Jeff Adelson, "Jindal vetoes tax breaks for giving to public schools; He signs court fee, voting hours bills," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 9, 2012, National, p. 3.

26Andrew Vanacore, "BESE backs set of new policies; They implement Jindal program," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 20, 2012, National, p. 2.  See also: Andrew Vanacore, "Changes breeze through BESE; Board gives package preliminary OK," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 19, 2012, Metro, p. 1.

27Andrew Vanacore, "N.O. district set to fire about 200 teachers; School closures, poor evaluations cited," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 19, 2012, Metro, p. 1.

28Lauren McGaughy, "Blow dealt to voucher plan; Judge rules funds unconstitutional," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, December 2, 2012, National, p. 2.

29James Gill, "Voucher program not living up to promises," The New Orleans Advocate, December 29, 2013.

30J. Celeste Lay, "Guest commentary: Charter experiment in New Orleans a failure," The Advocate, June 10, 2014, New Orleans, http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9419324-123/guest-column-charter-experiment-in, accessed 09/07/2015.

31Colleen Kimmett, "10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans' All-Charter School System has Proven a Failure," In These Times, August 28, 2015, http://inthesetimes.com/article/18352/10-years-after-katrina-new-orleans-all-charter-district-has-proven-a-failur, accessed 09/07/2015.

32Will Sentell, "Louisiana school vouchers cripple adademic achievement, national report says," The Advocate, New Orleans, February 4, 2016, http://theadvocate.com/news/14757514-87/vouchers-cripple-academic-achievement-national-report-says, accessed 02/05/2016.

LESSONS IN RENEWAL
 
An Orleans Parish public school in Lakeview is stymied by red tape and regulations, while two nearby parochial schools let nothing stand in their way to renovate and reopen
 
KATY RECKDAHL
 
July 6, 2007
 

Ten days after Hurricane Katrina, St. Dominic School Principal Adrianne LeBlanc and her brother stepped out of a boat and slogged in hip waders through the Lakeview campus, still inundated by 5 feet of black water. A month later, she got National Guard troops to gut the place.

St. Dominic came back to Harrison Avenue in May 2006.

St. Paul's Episcopal School came back next, in August 2006.

A month after the storm, with the city nearly empty, St. Paul's parents and staff donned gloves and masks to scrub away Katrina sludge and take stock. They also hired a contractor who shared their motivation, said the Rev. Will Hood, St. Paul's rector. Crews from Carl E. Woodward Construction "rolled through this place like it was 'Extreme Makeover,' laboring around the clock," Hood said.

Just around the corner, the neighborhood's public school, Edward Hynes Elementary, has enjoyed no such quick homecoming. Now a charter school under the Orleans Parish School Board, its old building on Harrison Avenue sits in cluttered ruin, awaiting demolition scheduled for this month. Students from Lakeview ZIP code 70124, who get priority admission, can take buses to attend Hynes Charter, now a vagabond school that was housed Uptown last year and will move to Gentilly this year.

The school won't return to Lakeview until late 2009 — if everything proceeds on schedule.

While the public campus sits idle, the private schools have provided an anchor for families and businesses moving back into Lakeview's main commercial district and a linchpin for the neighborhood recovery at large. That it will take the School Board three years longer to reopen Hynes than its privately run neighbors underscores the difficulty city agencies have had resolving red tape and financing issues to produce action.

Quality schools, perhaps more than any institution, have the power to draw families back and unite communities. During the much-touted neighborhood-planning process, residents citywide emphasized the link between good schools and strong communities. Nearly every rebuilding plan revolves around schools.

Yet those plans ring hollow in Lakeview and many other New Orleans neighborhoods that surround blighted public schools. The state-run Recovery School District has dozens of severely damaged properties but so far has officially condemned only one, Langston Hughes Elementary School, near the New Orleans Fair Grounds. Five Orleans Parish School Board campuses, including Hynes, have been deemed damaged beyond repair. None have been torn down, much less rebuilt.

Unequal comparisons

It almost seems unfair to compare the progress of a New Orleans public school with that of more agile private schools, especially those with intrepid leaders such as LeBlanc and Hood. Few public officials even bother to contest the sluggishness of local government.

"We lumber like a mastodon," Orleans Parish School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz said, noting how, since Katrina, the city's public schools faced FEMA bureaucracy and an added tangle of confusion that resulted from the state's post-storm takeover of most of the city's public schools.

The public school system's biggest failure may have been its inability to harness the elbow grease and ingenuity of principals, parents and neighbors, who successfully led the comebacks of both of Lakeview's private schools. That's particularly true for Hynes, which, unlike many New Orleans public schools before the flood, boasted an active and cohesive parents group, much of it middle class, a potentially invaluable source of donations, volunteerism and political clout.

Immediately after the storm, Hynes parents reacted just like the private-school parents down the street. They volunteered to gut and clean their school — but the Orleans Parish School Board told them no, citing liability concerns and the need for FEMA to assess damages before any repairs. Hynes' one-story brick buildings now resemble a time capsule, filled with silt-coated rubbish and flood-tossed furniture. Dry-erase boards still list homework assignments given the Friday before Hurricane Katrina. Children's chairs still sit atop their desks, right where they left them that final weekend. Neighbor Libby Black, who put two children through Hynes, can't stand to look at it.

"It breaks my heart because that school was a real center of the community."

Parents roll up sleeves

In May 2006, a flotilla of parents moved back to St. Dominic School using trucks, sport utility vehicles and station wagons filled with books and furniture. On their way, the caravan passed St. Paul's Episcopal School, where construction crews crawled over the property, swinging hammers and pushing saws. The two schools followed remarkably similar paths that began with temporary school sites. St. Dominic held classes at Holy Rosary Academy on Esplanade Avenue from October 2005 through May 2006; St. Paul's taught students at the unflooded First Baptist Church on Canal Boulevard from January to May 2006.

St. Dominic started early, just six weeks after the flood, when a group of volunteers met up at Holy Rosary to scrub classrooms, using a crawfish pot to boil water for floor wax. A parent recalled seeing LeBlanc cleaning the playground with a firehose, dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and shrimp boots.

The school's leadership never considered abandoning the Lakeview campus. "Adrianne LeBlanc is the kind of leader that would not allow that to happen unless she was pretty much dead," said Timothy Todd, the school's longtime maintenance supervisor.

St. Paul's had an equally devoted leader in Hood, an inveterate Navy chaplain who had served in Iraq before arriving in New Orleans in January 2006.

"He's a military guy, so he's used to getting things done," said Sylvia Parks, the church's spokeswoman.

'It was a good school'

Outside, the air echoed with pounding hammers rebuilding homes. But inside the old Hynes school, flies buzzed around Room 28, a second-grade class taught by Ms. Murry, according to a moldering sign. The walls bore neatly printed handmade signs, laying down classroom rules and teaching how to use a dictionary.

On the shelves: stacks of flashcards, reams of sodden paper, clothespins, yarn and handmade math games in plastic bags. On a small table in the corner, two filthy computers tilted sideways.

For two weeks, in August 2005, one desk there belonged to Alexander Dines, who had a pet fish named Fishy and lived in a small house. Laminated papers on the floor disclose that it also was home to Tiara Gross, whose pink-and-purple shotgun held her and her fish, Girly Girl. And to Quionne Dabney, who lived an apartment with her fish, Queen. The papers had been the first exercise, the icebreaker, for each child's "second-grade memory book," said Jane Murry, who taught in that classroom for 14 years.

Even after 10 feet of water flowed through them, classrooms such as Murry's told a story of careful instruction and stimulated children.

"We walked in, and you could tell: It was a good school," said Mary Filardo, head of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit 21st Century School Fund, who walked through the school in January 2006. "There were papier-mache animals hanging from the ceiling; lots of paper, scissors and paste; all the things that tell you that kids aren't being told to just sit in their seats, be quiet and do their rote work."

Sacrificing to return

In October 2006, St. Dominic Principal LeBlanc remembered unlocking the doors at Holy Rosary and seeing a fourth-grade boy, who ran toward her and jumped into her arms. The school's reopening gave everyone a purpose, she said, remembering how a group of 10 devoted parents moved 2,000 library books down three flights of stairs.

Returning quickly involved sacrifices. After St. Dominic moved back to Lakeview, students used outdoor portable toilets until November 2006 and carried bag lunches all year, which they ate outside in tents. At St. Paul's, Lakeview Deli brought in hot lunches everyday, but teachers taught the older students in temporary trailers until October 2006.

Built in 1960, St. Paul's main two-story building — a brick rectangle — stretches from the church to Hemenway Hall, a structure finished in 2003 that includes a gymnasium and two stories of classrooms that wrap like an "L" around the gym. Behind those were four smaller structures. A pair of single-story buildings will not be rebuilt, and the fate of a third remains uncertain. The last, the more newly constructed Suzie Dunn Early Childhood Center, a one-story building, should reopen soon.

"We're a lot further ahead than many schools are," Parks said. "But we're not where we want to be."

Also built in 1960, St. Dominic's campus encompasses six brick buildings, most of them built around a square with a quiet courtyard. The school uses four structures: the main school building, the primary-school building, Aquinas Hall and an auditorium. The other two buildings are the church — one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese — and a three-story priory where 20 Dominican priests lived before the storm.

By the end of June 2006, St. Dominic had renovated all of the flooded ground floors except for Aquinas Hall. While families in the church and community still struggle, financially and psychologically, St. Dominic's provides a beacon of progress.

"This has been the one good, solid thing: to be home in Lakeview," LeBlanc said.

Tradition of activism

Like their counterparts in neighboring private schools, Hynes parents once had a hand in everything. "We were sewing our own auditorium curtains before the storm," parent Angela Daliet said.

Parental activism had become tradition, according to Hynes parent Crystal Morgan. "You don't send your child off to school and think that the rest is the teacher's job."

Teachers were similarly devoted and have brought that experience to the charter school, she said, which hired most of its teachers from "the old Hynes."

A couple of months after the hurricane, Daliet helped form the Re-Open Hynes Committee to lobby for a 2006 return to Lakeview. Once those chances dimmed, she supported efforts to charter Hynes, which all three of her sons attend.

Daliet admitted pangs of envy as parents from St. Dominic and St. Paul's brought their schools back. "I cheered them on, but it was hard to watch," she said.

Hynes parents simply couldn't make the same kind of headway.

As Hynes Charter School got ready to open at a temporary campus across town most parents shifted their energy there, where their efforts wouldn't be for naught. The old building on Harrison Avenue was left to ruin, unused except as a school-bus stop for Lakeview children who head to Hynes' temporary Uptown site. Jennifer Collins' two sons waited for the bus there.

"We're living in a trailer, and they were waiting for the bus outside the old Hynes school. It wasn't good for them," she said.

As the grass became more overgrown, parents and neighbors convinced the School Board to mow the lawn. A small victory, and the only one.

Stan Smith, the School Board's chief financial officer, said badly damaged properties such as Hynes have "been less of a priority" than repairing and opening schools that could more quickly reopen to serve displaced students returning to New Orleans.

Now the board can start planning for the long term, he said.

But Mary Filardo from the 21st Century School Fund, which advises urban school districts on facilities planning, questioned the necessity of Hynes' four-year exile. In early 2006, she asked two construction companies to tour the school's main concrete-block building, and they found it solid.

"It has terrazzo floors, glazed-tile walls," she said. "Why would you just tear it down?" She recognized that FEMA declared the building more than 51 percent damaged. "But if you can get it like new for little more than 50 cents on the dollar, why would you spend the whole dollar?" she asked.

Black, who lives near Hynes, also questioned the need for demolition.

"I had 5 feet of water in my house," she said. "So I can't believe that a cement-block building needs to be torn down."

Michelle Douglas, the principal at Hynes Charter, empathizes with the nostalgia but also knows firsthand the shortcomings of the Hynes building, which had decayed from years of deferred maintenance.

"Everyone's still grieving about the building at 990 Harrison," she said. "But that building was in pitiful shape even before the storm."

FEMA engineers, in their first estimates, dated October 2006, suggested $2 million in repairs. The School Board, too, had at first requested bids for renovation. But in December, FEMA's allotment increased to $8.5 million as engineers uncovered hidden damages and changed their recommendation to demolition, FEMA spokeswoman Diane Perry said. The increase to FEMA's current allocation of $10.5 million reflected increased construction costs, among other things.

Throughout the process, the school system has done a poor job of keeping Hynes parents and the surrounding community informed, which added to the frustration, Black said. "When I see someone from the school, I always ask, 'What's going on?' " Black said. "Because I'm here in the dark. I could be out here stumping for Hynes, but I don't know what needs doing."

Copyright 2007, The Times-Picayune Publishing Corporation
 

From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 6, 2007, National, p. 1.  Katy Reckdahl can be reached at kreckdahl@timespicayune.com.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.
 

Top 
No More Excuses
 
EDITORIAL
 
July 8, 2007
 

About the time National Guard troops were gutting Lakeview's St. Dominic School post-Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board was declaring that it had no plans to open any public schools on the east bank that school year.

It was October 2005, and the School Board was giving up.

With that, the fate of Edward Hynes Elementary — located just a few blocks away from St. Dominic — was sealed. Although parents asked to be allowed to clean out Hynes to prepare for it to be rebuilt, the school system said no thanks.

Officials cited the usual sort of governmental excuses: liability concerns, the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess damage. The parents switched gears and got the School Board to make Hynes a charter school, which is operating temporarily on an Uptown campus.

Almost 23 months after Katrina struck, the Hynes campus still hasn't been touched. It hasn't even been locked up to keep people from wandering through classrooms ransacked by floodwaters.

Beyond the obvious health and safety risks posed by a flood-ravaged school being left to fester for months on end, Hynes is emblematic of the can't-do attitude of the Orleans Parish school system.

Free of a visionless bureaucracy, St. Dominic began holding classes within two months of the storm at Holy Rosary Academy on Esplanade Avenue and moved back into its repaired building in May 2006.

St. Paul's Episcopal School took a similar path. A month after Katrina, parents and the school staff cleaned out the flooded school. Students were back on campus last August.

No matter what Orleans Parish School Board members say, there is no excuse for Hynes to be lagging so far behind its two neighboring parochial schools.

St. Dominic and St. Paul's have had to deal with insurers and FEMA and all the difficulties inherent in rebuilding post-Katrina. Public school officials can talk all they want about having their hands tied by officialdom, but St. Bernard Parish Superintendent Doris Voitier managed to navigate those same channels successfully.

She had a school open in her devastated parish by November, just 11 weeks after Katrina's floodwaters inundated nearly every building in the parish.

Sure, St. Bernard Parish has a small school system. But so does the Orleans Parish School Board these days.

Because of its disinterest in quickly reopening schools after Katrina — and a track record of failure before the storm — the system lost control of all but eight schools to the state after the flood. One of the schools it held onto was Hynes.

With only a handful of schools to run and the Hynes parents taking responsibility for chartering their own school after the storm, the school system's inertia in Lakeview is incomprehensible. System officials argue that they have had to concentrate on getting non-flooded buildings up and running first, but there is no reason you can't work on two tracks at once.

Hynes finally is slated for demolition this month, just a few weeks shy of the two-year anniversary of Katrina. A new building is targeted to open by late 2009, if all goes well.

That will be more than three years after St. Dominic and St. Paul's reopened a few blocks away. The quick return of those schools has helped spark the renewal of the Harrison Avenue corridor and other parts of Lakeview.

The fact that private citizens working without the constraints of a bureaucracy were successful where government was not is hardly a surprise. Especially not post-Katrina, when almost every arm of government has been paralyzed by a lack of resourcefulness and vision.

Ms. Voitier in St. Bernard Parish is the all-too-rare public official who looked for ways to overcome obtacles instead of offering up excuses after Katrina. For that she was honored in May with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

She and other parish leaders accomplished what they did in those early weeks after the storm without help from state or federal government, she said. "We had no patience for excuses or bureaucracy," she told the audience at the awards ceremony in Boston.

From that one makeshift campus of trailers, generators and a tent used as a cafeteria, the system will have grown to five schools with 4,000 students by the fall. "We had to open schools because that's what school people do," she said.

That is one of the key differences between Ms. Voitier and Orleans Parish school officials. Where they found reasons not to act, she found a way to start getting a devastated community back on its feet. So did the school leaders and parents at St. Dominic and St. Paul's.

The parents at Hynes are trying to do the same. The School Board ought to help them or get out of their way.

Copyright 2007, The Times-Picayune Publishing Corporation
 

From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 8, 2007, Metro, p. 6.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.
 

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