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New Orleans: Who Stole Fortier High School?

by Oread Daily Friday, May. 19, 2006 at 6:50 AM

How does a historically black high school get turned into predominantly white elite charter school? Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans is a symbol of everything wrong in New Orleans today.


"The public education system is going to change," said Yvette M. Jones, chief operating officer at Tulane. And there's no better time, she added, than when you have "a clean slate."

As you read the article below here is some further information to keep in mind.

Tulane University contracted Johnson Controls to rebuild the Fortier High's storm-damaged mechanical and electrical infrastructure. Johnson also is seeking outside funding to help refurbish Lusher Charter Schools and other ailing entities.

Why is this of any importance?

Johnson Controls has a no-bid contract (signed prior to Hurricane Katrina) that was rife with corruption and prompted several federal indictments. As the Times-Picayune newspaper has reported, Johnson Controls landed a 20-year, $81 million energy-management contract with former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, a contract that was awarded without the public's or city council's knowledge. Members of the Morial administration and others skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the contract, which led to numerous federal indictments.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who succeeded Morial, had raised questions about the Johnson Controls contract even before the scandal broke. The Nagin administration charged that the deal's structure made it impossible to verify whether the savings on energy costs were being realized, and the contract was larded with noncompetitive subcontracts for Morial cronies.

A central figure in the scheme was Terry Songy, who was a project manager for Johnson Controls Inc. He pled guilty in a plea bargining agreement with the feds.

Songy was fired by Johnson Controls after company officials "learned" of the money and gifts he had taken from others involved in the job, representatives have said. Company officials said that Johnson Controls was innocent of any wrongdoing and unaware of the skimming.

If nothing else, you would have to wonder about the company's oversight ability if they were indeed unaware that anything was wrong.

And now the company is getting millions for a whole range of projects in New Orleans.

The following was sent to me from a friend in New Orleans. I am not sure who actually wrote it or where it may have appeared. But it is some mighty good information.

Who Stole Fortier High School?

How does a historically black high school get turned into predominantly white elite charter school? Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans is a symbol of everything wrong in New Orleans today. Hurricane Katrina drove 1,000 black students out of the school in August of 2005. Two months later, while 90% of the black community was still in exile and nearly all the Fortier students, parents, and staff were still banned from the city by martial law, Tulane University and administrators from Robert M. Lusher Middle school took over the Fortier building to convert it into a new Lusher High School. Tulane kicked in $1.5 million to seal the deal on the condition that the children of Tulane faculty and staff (virtually all-white) would be allowed to attend the new charter high school without having to take admission exams—as Lusher required for other students.

Hundreds of Fortier students who hoped to return in January of 2006 found their school had been stolen from them. Worse yet, Tulane and Lusher had begun improvements on the building including removing lead paint and asbestos. For years, wealthy white people had no problem with black children breathing in deadly lead and asbestos, but now that their children were going to attend the school, the building had to be made safe.

Tulane had long wanted to create an exclusive high school that would employ its own personnel and be financed by the state. Activists have labeled the plan racist because the new school would primarily benefit the children of Tulane professors at the expense of other public schools that are seriously under funded . Despite employment practices by Tulane that would conflict with policies negotiated between the Orleans Parish School Board and the American Federation of Teachers for school employees, some board members have endorsed Tulane's participation in establishing a new high school.

With the prospect of further access to public funding, Tulane began to insinuate itself into the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) by means of a new Internet library resource, "offered only to educators in the New Orleans Public School District..." . Although Tulane does not have a school of education, it began "testing the waters" by sending student observers into various public schools and has enlisted the cooperation of Kathy Riedlinger, principal of Lusher Extension School. It also installed a business program into the John McDonogh High School curriculum.

Exercising powers newly afforded him by Senate Act 193, Superintendent of Schools Anthony Amato quietly negotiated with Tulane to make it a "partner" in a new Lusher High School that would be housed in an uptown school building (Sophie B. Wright Middle School), whose current students would be displaced. Public outrage following disclosure of this "under-the-radar" scheme was a factor that contributed to Amato's abrupt resignation.

Well-organized Lusher parents, determined to sever the school's relationship with a dysfunctional central administration now in crisis, drafted a proposal to convert Lusher into a publicly-supported charter school administered by a private board selected by the school's parents. In a move toward self-imposed privatization, Lusher teachers overwhelmingly agreed to give up their representation by the teachers' union in exchange for a system of accountability to an untried administrative board with which they will now have to negotiate salaries, working conditions and benefits, and depend upon to resolve disputes and grievances. Presumably, the new Lusher board will be empowered to set student enrollment qualifications, hire and dismiss teachers at will, receive private funding, expand to upper grade levels, create alternative programs, and enter into relationships with other academic institutions.

New Orleans had been under a compulsory evacuation order when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. Then came the breaches of the levee system protecting the city and the floods that destroyed scores of neighborhoods, businesses and institutions, leaving New Orleans with an uncertain future. With the population dispersed and the public school system shattered, Tulane quickly moved to implement its plan to acquire Lusher School, turn it into a publicly-supported charter school, and expand its grades through high school. The takeover would provide for the education of the children of returning faculty displaced by the storm.

The political resources brought to bear to secure Lusher could serve as a model of how things are done in a closed political environment. New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin placed Tulane President Scott S. Cowen in charge of "fixing" New Orleans' foundering public school system and appointed him to head the Committee on Education of his Bring New Orleans Back Commission. As chair of the Education Committee, Cowen had direct access to Governor Kathleen Blanco's Louisiana Recovery Authority, which controlled financing for the rebuilding of New Orleans. Joining Cowen's Education Committee was Phyllis Landrieu, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board and its future president. Another school board member, Heidi Daniels, is the wife of Tulane's executive director of state and local affairs, Flozell Daniels Jr.

Conspicuous by their subordinate role in the educational decision-making process were representatives of local universities with functioning departments of education. For example, the College of Education at the University of New Orleans has an extensive program of teacher training at the undergraduate and graduate levels and its dean, Dr. James Meza, has served as Executive Director of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In contrast, Tulane has neither a school of education, nor does it offer formal courses in teacher preparation. The political forces that dictated Mayor Nagin's choices of committee leadership await illumination from an observer privy to the behind-the-scenes activities of the mayor's commission.

From their temporary headquarters in Houston, Texas, Tulane administrators continued their campaign to acquire control over Lusher School and issued a fait accompli in the form of an October 5, 2005 press release describing the new K-12 charter school and their intention to supplement the teaching staff with Teach For America volunteers. On September 15, 2005, the proposal to establish Lusher as a charter school and expand its grades through high school had been approved by the Orleans Parish School Board at a meeting held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and by October 28, 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board approved the use of Alcee Fortier High School for Lusher's middle and upper grades, thus completing the acquisition process. Tulane had pledged $1.5 million as an immediate source of operating funds, and this was matched by $1.75 million from the state. Tulane's “Bold Renewal Plan” for Tulane University, including the dismissal of many tenured professors, was not announced until December 8, 2005.

With the privatization of Lusher, Tulane succeeded in avoiding collective-bargaining with teachers and implemented instead an authoritarian hierarchy in which employees would serve at the pleasure of their superiors, termed a "performance-based" policy. Despite the surplus of certified veteran teachers who were unemployed post-Katrina, Tulane and Lusher principal, Kathy Riedlinger, opted to employ teachers tolerant of anti-union principles and Teach For America recruits. The latter are noted for their youth and enthusiasm, brief (generally two-year) commitment to service, and their minimal training in educational pedagogy. The Teach For America program is funded by the U.S. Government, and Tulane has a direct connection to it through Walter S. Isaacson, a member of Tulane's Board of Governors who also chairs the Teach For America Board of Directors. Dismissing the role played by the five local universities that actually operate departments of education (University of New Orleans, Loyola, Dillard, Xavier, and Southern Universities), Isaacson, a Tulane graduate, declared Cowen "the hero when it comes to New Orleans education."

With a selective enrollment policy and first preference given to the children of professional staff at Tulane, Loyola, Dillard and Xavier Universities, places at Lusher Charter Schools were rapidly filled, forcing some parents in the Lusher district who were not connected with those universities to look elsewhere for schools to educate their children.

What became of the 1,000 former black Fortier students? Tulane could care less. Fortier is a symbol of how the wealthy white elite and their middle-class supporters had no place for black people in their “vision” of a better New Orleans. First they starved the schools to death by refusing to fund them adequately; now they are building a new city on the bones of the old.
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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 4 posted about this article.
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Mr Dom Musso Friday, Mar. 09, 2007 at 1:23 PM
Fortier High Had Interesting History Deborah DeBruyn Monday, Mar. 19, 2007 at 1:36 PM
Your wrong some one Friday, Mar. 30, 2007 at 4:59 PM
Jewish students at Fortier Victor Gold Tuesday, Oct. 06, 2009 at 8:58 AM

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