Friday, September 19, 2008

My son has been to two meetings this week concerning the Recovery School District's Facilities Master Plan, and I didn't have the heart to drag him to the one that was conducted at McDonogh 35 last night. He was more than patient at the other meetings, but something in him cracked when I told him he had to get his shoes back on.

"Moooooooom, not another meeeeeting!!!!!!!!!!" he whined heroically.

God bless the Tweeter Tube, and the attendee who was tweeting from McD, Sarah Lewis. She let everyone know that the proceedings were going to be shown on channel 8 in real time, so I dodged some more whining from the little guy due to some interruptions of his viewing of Ratatouille, popped a videotape into the VCR after making sure it was a blank tape and not our wedding video or any South Park episodes, and I watched it today once I dropped the kid off at school.

If it weren't for my hard and fast personal rule of not drinking in the daytime unless it is a party, I'd have inhaled all the rum in my home by now. And we have a LOT of rum right now. I need to bake more rum-glazed pecan pound cakes to use it up...focus! FOCUS!!!!

My tape begins in the middle of Constance Caruso's comments on the extension of the public comment period due to the appearances of hurricanes Gustav and Ike in the Gulf. Everyone attending the meeting (and, from later scenes showing the auditorium seats, I gathered that there were approximately 80 people in attendance, give or take) had had to fill out comment cards on attending the meeting, and those cards would be catalogued, compiled, recorder, and used by the RSD and BESE superintendents in making their decisions on the Master Plan. Nothing at this point is set in stone, Caruso emphasized. The final vote on the plan would be made by the boards of the OPSD and the BESE.

A happy, optimistic video presentation is shown to the assembled group, with the song "St James Infirmary" and a streetcar scene kicking it off. The Quick Start schools are touted as state-of-the-art facilities that will be ready for students in 2009. According to the RSD, what it gathered from previous community meetings was that the public wanted state-of-the-art facilities, as well as

-facilities within walking distance of public transit
-facilities available for public use after school and on weekends
-facilities close to libraries and clinics
-space for athletics and further growth of the school facilities

Remember the list above, as well as the "state-of-the-art" moniker. It will be brought up again later by a disgruntled teacher.

Also to be remembered: BESE superintendent Paul Pastorek's determination: "We have to really put the past behind us." That also means there will be a trend towards "multi-neighborhood schools" of 600 students each, if the Master Plan is allowed to stand as is.

A "plan-at-a-glance" PowerPoint follows the video. More details here. Funding sources for Phase One of the plan are mentioned here. A great deal of emphasis is put on the big, bad past and how there were more school facilities in the city than is currently needed. - remember that tidbit of information as well, y'all. 52 schools are slated to be landbanked.

A timekeeper tells everybody the comments will be limited to two minutes per person and/or two questions, which doesn't apply to the people on the stage. It is mentioned that pre-8-29, there were 128 public schools, and now there are 84 in the works, with 7,000 kids currently in modular buildings. It is mentioned that candidate for Congress Cedric Richmond is in the house, as are Orleans Parish School Board members Una Anderson, Cynthia Cade, and Phyllis Landrieu, all sitting in the audience. None of 'em say a thing the whole evening.

The comments are kicked off by a parent from District 4 telling the planners that they have been blind to community support, and a fellow named Bagert chides the planners for ignoring the demographic realities on the ground - there is a real "disconnect between need and capacity." An example he cites: in District 4, 3932 students need schooling, yet, currently, there are only 2500 seats available for those students, and the Master Plan's numbers make a dire situation worse:

Karen Burke, the RSD's Deputy Superintendent of Operations, offers to meet with Bagert the next day to go over the numbers with him.

Two other curious phrases that come up in the continuing barrage of master Plan criticism:

Building name neutral - brought up by a Ms French, who is seated on the stage next to planner Steven Bingler, in response to a community member's concerns that the preservation of history is going to be left by the wayside - i.e., that the names of activist, anti-segregationist educators such as Fannie Williams and Edward H. Phillips will be lost in the haste to make way for the state-of-the-art. If Pastorek really wants the past left behind the Orleans Parish schools, these names will most likely be gone.

Don't merge a school with an operator.

That one gave me pause.

Said by the same Ms French in response to a few people who wanted Priestley School's dilapidated building to be included in the Master Plan - hell, they are fighting to have the Priestley School included in any way, shape, or form, period - it was an attempt to shut down Jerry Speir's emphasis on community support for Priestley and the submission of plans the school itself had had drawn up for renovations to its rotting building on Leonidas Street. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell she meant. Disregard demonstrated community support for reopening a school in a neighborhood with one of the highest rates of return of any 'hood in this city? Emphasize that the plans will be considered by the board members but will not be catalogued in the public comment records? (Thank God for the insidious nature of the interwebs, there.) Thou shalt have no other operators before Concordia-Parsons and the local architects it has engaged in implementing the hastily cobbled-together Master Plan?

I'm thinking it's the last one.

Check G-Bitch at Humid City for the McMain representatives' input. I would add that the teacher in the "No Booker T" t-shirt chastised the board for ignoring all of the things its video presentation mentioned it got from previous community feedback on what the public wanted with regards to relocating McMain in the unsuitable building and neighborhood of Booker T. Washington school.

Also, Ms Cook said of McMain: "Yes, it is dilapidating (sic), but
whose fault is that?"

Did I mention that both McMain and Priestley are open enrollment?

The fact that Central City's Sandra Reed was cut off on the public access broadcast in the middle of her pleas to extend the Master Plan public comment period another 30 days speaks volumes about how much the RSD, OPSD, and BESE value the public input.

Doesn't mean you should not keep the comments coming, however - just don't submit your own blueprints, or you'll have Ms French crying, "Operator!" on your initiative-minded tuchus.


As always, email your input to , or snail mail it to the OPSD office at 3520 Gen. DeGaulle Dr.

Information on Community Review Meetings for Districts 1-7 can be found here.

An emergency meeting on the plan is being convened at First Grace United Methodist Church - 3401 Canal Street - at 6 PM on Thursday, September 25th:

Please RSVP to by Monday, September 22, whether or not you can attend.

The meeting will include:

· A presentation of a comprehensive, independent analysis of the School Facilities Master Plan and its effects on Planning District 4.

· Strategizing together on how we can take action to make sure "Master Plan" meets the interests of our children and our community.

The presentation on September 25th is something EVERYONE connected to any of the neighborhoods above has to see, along with anyone with an interest in basic fairness and the future of education in our City.

Below are highlights of the information contained in the analysis:

1) Planning District 4 in 2008 starts off as the district with the greatest unmet need, i.e. public-school attending elementary age children without seats in the planning district. Our district has a capacity shortage of 1375 seats currently, the largest shortage in the City.

2) Phase 1 of the Master Plan would make that shortage even bigger, leaving us with over 2,000 children without seats in District 4 by 2012. That project shortage is higher by 1,400 seats than ANY OTHER PLANNING DISTRICT in the City.

3) Phase 2 of the Master Plan would further increase the shortage of elementary seats in District 4 to between 2,382 seats (low estimate) and 3,204 seats (moderate estimate).

1 comment:

Cold Spaghetti said...

Wow... and THANK YOU for the post!