School board approves charter, Willson, Vidrine working to flip a black member

 The school board approved a charter school, over the superintendent’s objection, but Vidrine, Willson mount push to flip one black board member to undo the vote

Wednesday Monroe City School Board approved the application of local educators to begin the JW Brown Laboratory School, a Type 1 Charter School in Monroe.

The board approved the application in a 3-1 vote, after a presentation by Stephanie Henderson Carter, spokeswoman for the applicants. Carter said the new school will serve students from Kindergarten through 6th grade.

The board approved the application although the district’s evaluation consultant recommended that the application be turned down because the applicant was lacking a few items, that were not major but “definitely fixable.”

Carter said the items sought such as a class schedule and her planned curriculum approach were prepared in a separate binder and could not be included in the space provided in the application. The reviewer told the board she did not see the extra materials and only evaluated the application on the merits of information of the printed forms. That’s why she said any deficiencies were “fixable.”

Carter said the new charter will incorporate a laboratory school approach with hands-on instruction for students with an emphasis on math and science. She said while most schools offer a chance for students to participate in laboratory experiences daily, the new charter will use the hands-on laboratory approach in all classes. “Our children, are failing and need all the help they can get,” she said.

Superintendent Brent Vidrine said he opposed the application because charter schools take funds out of the district. If the school operates at full capacity, the district would fund its teachers and students with over $2 million a year. Vidrine said charter schools hurt the district financially and could mean hiring fewer teachers.

Mrs. Betty Ward Cooper, board member, said if the district sponsors a charter school and will take credit for its accomplishments as it addresses a special need in the district, then monies spent for a charter is not money that is spent “out of the district.”

Since the Wednesday vote, both Vidrine and Willson have been busy lobbying the three black members to get one of them to flip their vote. Vidrine announced at a principal’s meeting last week that he was confident the vote would be reversed. He encouraged all principals to contact either of the Black board members to get them to reverse their action. Willson called key people in the African-American community in an attempt to persuade them to pressure Neal or Saulsberry to change their votes.

Several of those contacted, immediately called the Free Press after Willson’s calls to report their conversations.

Ironically, the first charter school application in the District since 2012 was filed by the Neville Alumni Association, with Vidrine as its school leader. The applicants wanted to take over the buildings and operation of Neville High School.

The Neville charter would have diverted $50 million to the alumni association over the life of the contract with Vidrine in leadership. There were 965 students at Neville at the time.

The Neville Charter was approved by the school board but the Neville teachers turned down the action after they learned that they might lose their retirement.

When Vidrine became superintendent, the Neville charter efforts disappeared and he worked to discredit the remaining charter school Excellence Academy which closed in June of 2017 after an extended court battle that went to the state Supreme Court.


2012: Local groups planning charter schools in Monroe: Vidrine explains Type 3 takeover of Neville High; Wright explains Excellence Type 2 plan

2012: McFarland warns planned Neville charter by Alumni, Vidrine is a pushback against Black superintendent. Handwriting is on the wall.


Wednesday, Bill Willson, president of the board, said any new charter would take money out of the system to finance the charter. He commended Mrs. Carter and her group for their efforts but said he opposed the idea because of the financial impact it would have on the district.

In the final vote, Daryll Berry recused himself, an action that surprised Willson. “Why are you recusing yourself?” Willson asked, “Because I don’t want to vote,” answered Berry. “Why?” asked Willson again. “Because I don’t want to vote,” said Berry.

Following Berry, B.J. Johnson also recused himself. He said he knew members of the Henderson family. Even though he had no business dealings or relatives with the applicants he also refused to vote.

That left the final decision up to the board’s three new members, Betty Ward Cooper, Rick Saulsberry, and Sharon Neal, who all voted in favor.

Afterward, Neal told the Free Press that she wants to help children. “When I heard Mrs. Henderson speak my heart went out to do anything we can that can help our children. I followed my heart,” said Neal.

Last year the Laboratory School applicants applied for a parish charter but were turned down because the school did not have a parish location and proposed to involve students from both the parish and city schools.

However, this year, Carter revised the application to only involve city school students and will be leasing the 25,000 square feet facility that once housed Excellence Academy. It is owned by the New Tabernacle Baptist Church.

The City School Board has had seven Charter School applications since 2012, it has approved four applications but only contracted with one.

In 2012, The Neville Alumni Association applied for a Type 3 charter school. The group, headed by Susan Weaver sought to take possession of Neville High School’s buildings, athletic fields, and other facilities and operate the school independent of the district. It’s application listed Brent Vidrine as the school’s leader, principal. Over the course of its five-year contract, the district would spend $50 million with Vidrine and the Neville Alumni and Friends.

The school board unanimously approved the application, however, it was not implemented because Neville teachers voted against the takeover when they learned they would not be able to participate in the teacher retirement program.

The Vision Academy Charter application was also approved in 2012. It’s executive was Latoya Jackson. The school focused on reclaiming students who had dropped out of school or overaged. It proposed to rescue those who dropped along the way on a path toward graduation. Its cost was $9 million over five years. The school board approved the application, but no contract was issued after the district denied the applicants use of Sherrouse complex as promised.

Excellence Academy was approved in 2012. It’s President was Robert A. Tanzy, Sr. The school focused on providing a program of performing and visual arts for at-risk middle school youth. The school was approved, but the district also denied the applicants use of the Sherrouse complex as promised. In a 52 day push, a property owned by the New Tabernacle congregation was prepared for the school to open in 2013. The district provided $10 million for its operation over four years.

In 2015 Jackie Matthews and Dr. Billye Burns submitted a charter application for the Mas-Tech Academy, operated by Child’s Play, Inc. The school’s goal was to work with elementary students in a STEM intense program. The application was not approved. It would have cost $6.2 million over five years.

In 2016 a charter application was filed by Pathways in Education with Martin McGreal as its leader. The school would have focused on high-risk high student populations with the special task of reclaiming dropouts. The school was not approved. It would have had an expected $5 million cost over five years.

In 2017, Pathways to Success applied for a charter. It was headed by Jackie Aniebok. The charter sought to establish an all-boys school for grades 7-12. It would have had an intensive focus on high demand vocational skills such as welding, HVAC, and Carpentry. It would also have a discipline component through the ROTC. It was not approved. Its cost would have been $10 million over five years.