Response to School Facilities Master Plan

The Education Committee prepared the following response to the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish. This response was approved by the MCNO Board and was submitted to the planners, to become part of the official public comments.
–Jeannette Thompson, Co-Chair, Education/Library Committee, MCNO

September 30, 2008
Re: Comments on School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish
We would like to see the public school system in Mid-City be a foundation in our recovery, where people would desire to live in the neighborhood because of the excellent schools. Having first-rate public schools would aid Mid-City’s recovery and quality in many other areas, including housing and reducing crime. Opening and maintaining quality schools will be a key issue in rebuilding our neighborhood. We need to have the appropriate number of public elementary and secondary schools reopened to ensure that every student in the neighborhood has a nearby school to attend. excerpted from the Mid-City Recovery Plan, completed Oct. 2006, with input from hundreds of Mid-City residents, as part of city-wide planning efforts.
The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization (MCNO) has reviewed the Blueprint, participated in a number of meetings on the Master Plan, and discussed the pertinent issues with our residents and members. MCNO has also studied the data analysis prepared by neighbors of the Morris F.X. Jeff School regarding Planning District 4; their data is taken from the plan and from BESE information. Based on our review and assessment, we have two general concerns and several specific recommendations to remedy these concerns, as follows:
General Concerns
1. MCNO is very concerned about the growing shortage of available seats in Mid-City area K-8 schools, if the master plan is implemented as written. (Mid-City schools are located in District 4, except for John Dibert School which is in Planning District 5.) District 4 has the largest number of public school students, according to enrollment projections. However, the distinct proposals for individual schools within Planning District 4 result in many fewer seats than are needed to accommodate our neighborhood students. The analysis, which is based on the low enrollment projections, shows that there is a current gap of 698 seats, which increases to a shortage of more than 1300 seats after Phase 1 and to more than 1500 seats after Phase 2.
2. MCNO is also very concerned that needed funding for the plan’s implementation will not be available beyond Phase 2. As the only Phase I plans for Mid-City involve reduction of seats, and crucial steps for District 4 are not scheduled until the later unfunded phases, the lack of available seats for our students in neighborhood schools would likely continue for many years.
In light of the concerns outlined above, MCNO asks that the following changes be made to the Master Plan as it pertains to District 4:
1. Move the new construction of Fisk-Howard up to Phase 1, in order to close the existing and growing gap in available seats for Mid-City.
2. Open an incubator Morris X.F. Jeff School at a temporary site until a new building is complete. Move the new construction of Morris X.F. Jeff up to Phase 1, in order to quickly close the existing and growing gap in available seats for Mid-City.
3. Postpone landbanking of the District 4 elementary schools that are currently open (McDonogh 28 and A.P. Tureaud); postpone landbanking of John Dibert (in District 5, but immediately adjacent to District 4). Landbanking of these sites would not occur until above-named new construction is complete and adequate K-8 seats are brought online. Continue to adequately maintain these facilities in the interim.
We support the following elements of the master plan:
* Public desire that pre-K-8 schools be located within a ½ mile walk from homes
* Creation and implementation of a plan that relocates students and schools efficiently, with the least negative impact on students and communities
* Maximizing local community assets, such as museums
Mid-City is a vital part of the Planning District 4 population that supports public schools. Continued revitalization in our neighborhood includes the construction of three large mixed-income apartment complexes along Tulane Avenue, which are likely to further increase the population of public school students when completed. Our schools are close to, and take advantage of, the wonderful resources in our neighborhood, such as City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. We believe that a strong partnership between our neighborhood and our schools will yield high caliber students the future leaders of our city. Please contact us with any questions.
Jennifer Weishaupt, President
Jeannette Thompson, Education Committee
Biljana Obradovic, Education Committee
cc: Councilmembers Midura, Head, Fielkow & Clarkson
Orleans Parish School Board Members Anderson, Fahrenholtz, and Sanders

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