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With the new board being installed last January and promises of new practices in the best interest of the children of Orleans Parish, the mood around the work to be done was one of promise. However, the mood of the room of the February 19th school board meeting was one of tension. Last minute changes raised the concern of community members and school board officials alike. Six board members were present with the only absent member being Board Member Cynthia Cade (District 2).
Among the topics on the agenda was the contentious discussion around the nullification of the contracts of two top administrators: Interim Superintendent Stan Smith and Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools Kathleen Padian. Neither action item received the vote necessary to nullify contracts and the items will be revisited in the future. Equally weighty issues discussed included the exchanges of properties between OPSB and other city agencies, including the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), City of New Orleans, and a property that formerly served as a Bell South Facility in New Orleans East. Each property agreement was agreed to by a vote of 6 yays and 0 nays and OPSB would move forward based upon the value of the appraised properties.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came with the removal of an item relating to the Wheatley School Leveraged Financing; and Board Member Sarah Usdin (District 3) made a motion that the item be added to the agenda for discussion. In a board meeting under the previous administration, a measure was supported that would have the OPSB and Recovery School District (RSD) work together to finance this project. Provisions in this measure meant that authorized a cooperative endeavor agreement (the “Leveraged Financing CEA”) with the RSD to implement a leveraged financing transaction for the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in accordance with the Master Plan. With this agreement, the agencies would receive monies as part of a special distribution of funds that would otherwise not be available to the school districts. Community members who spoke in opposition of the item being removed from the agenda asked that OPSB “lead the nation in being the first public entity of this kind to take advantage of funds through a financing agreement” of this type. A vote was taken to add this item to the agenda with it failing to make the agenda due to an oppositional vote from Board President Ira Thomas (District 1). A special meeting related to this matter will be held on February 21, 2013 beginning at noon. The meeting will take place at the Orleans Parish School Board office, 3520 General DeGaulle Drive, New Orleans, LA 70114. The meeting will be held in Conference Room 4050.