“Nothing is changing as far as the process we’re going through for this year,” said school CEO Kathy Riedlinger.
Lusher Charter School’s highly competitive admissions process — the Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that more than 1,300 applied to get in that year — includes several tiers. The first children admitted are siblings of current students, and second are those who live in a small swath of the university/east-Carrollton neighborhood (bounded roughly by Adams Street and Audubon Boulevard, from St. Charles Avenue to South Claiborne, but with some exceptions). The remaining spots are divided equally between children of Tulane affiliates and those seeking to test in through the admissions lottery.
The neighborhood district was created, school officials have said, both to serve the neighborhood impacted by the school’s operations and to increase diversity by admitting students from the historically African-American areas around Adams Street and the cemeteries. Critics, however, contend that the district lines reduce the opportunities for families who cannot afford live in the neighborhood to attend the school, and that the neighborhood is becoming wealthier and whiter so that the district no longer serves its purpose.
The monthly board meetings are usually sparsely attended, but Saturday’s included a half-dozen parents there concerned about the admissions district. At a recent open house, they said, Riedlinger made remarks that they interpreted as vague about the future of the district, and they said references to it have been removed from the school’s admissions web pages.
“It gave us all in-district a little scare,” said resident and prospective parent Melvin Albritton as the meeting concluded.
The viability of maintaining the school district — one of only a handful in the city — has long been a matter of internal debate. The board voted to continue it on a yearly basis in 2010, and the practice of families trying to obtain an in-district address just for admissions was criticized by school officials again in 2011.
“There have always been rumors,” Riedlinger said after Saturday’s meeting. “We are always considering what to do there, but there are no changes this year.”
Board chair Blaine LeCesne said he was unsure what sort of administrative reasons might have resulted in changes to the school website. If there is a policy change, he said, the board will discuss whether it needs to take a vote on it.
“It’s not on the table at this point, but it’s a fluid process,” LeCesne said. “The landscape is constantly changing, and policies are imposed on the school board. We don’t have a crystal ball to see what’s going to happen in the future.”
The parents at the meeting expressed relief at the school leaders’ assurances. Many had bought their homes in the district years ago with the anticipation of sending their children to the school, they said.
“It was just terrifying that, mid-stream, this year, they might change the rule,” Albritton said, noting that he moved into his house in the district in 2008, before the birth of his child. “We’re not gaming the system. Our kids are growing up in the neighborhood.”
The school board also heard brief updates on construction at the two campuses and on ongoing programs at the schools. To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.