School district employees’ involvement in charter application raises questions of conflict of interest
Four Orleans Parish School Board employees who work in the office that manages its five direct-run schools are involved in a bid by an independent nonprofit to turn them into charters, according to documents.
So is their former supervisor, who oversaw those schools for the district. She quit her job Thursday to become CEO of the new nonprofit, four days before the application deadline to take over the schools.
Their participation raises questions of conflicts of interest. Generally speaking, public employees can’t be involved in decisions in which they have an economic interest, nor can they be involved in bids for contract work with their agency. For two years following their public employment, they can’t contract with the same agency to do the same work.
Concerns over such a conflict led school district leaders to tell Nicolette London, who was the district’s chief of Local Education Agency and Network Schools, to steer clear of discussions at the central office involving charter applications.
That was based on a hunch she was involved in the charter bid, Chief of Staff Adam Hawf said in a February interview with The Lens. He didn’t elaborate on what led to that belief, and he said he never actually asked her about it.
Turns out he was right. London is named as the CEO in the application from a group called ExCEED Network Schools Charter Management Organization. The school district office that oversees the schools in question — the one London led — is also called ExCEED.
The application was due Monday and was released to the public on Tuesday.
The nonprofit was created in January. A week later, it submitted a letter of intent to take over the last five schools in New Orleans that are directly run by the Orleans Parish school district. The five principals of those schools have all signed on to the effort, and they would remain if the school district allows ExCEED to take over the schools.
In an interview Tuesday, London said she didn’t work on the nonprofit’s application. But she said she did know in December about plans by the five principals to turn the schools into charters.
“The principals had to make me aware of what they wanted to do,” she said. “As their supervisor, I knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish.”
She continued, “Conversations arose about the possibility [of being hired as CEO] but nothing was ever definite.”
By quitting before the application was due, London may have stayed within the bounds of state ethics law. A 2006 opinion from the School district employees’ involvement in charter application raises questions of conflict of interest | The Lens: