Council approves measure to give mayor’s office oversight over scholarships


New Orleans City Council voted on Thursday to include the mayor’s office in the process of distributing millions of dollars a year in city education grants from the Harrah’s Casino Fund – money donated to the city by the casino under a rental agreement.

While the disbursement process previously involved negotiations between the Orléans Parish School Board and the City Council, under the resolution approved Thursday, the school board will negotiate with the Mayor’s Office for Youth and Families to submit a list of funding recommendations to city council. .

Thursday was the last meeting of the five outgoing board members, who will be replaced by newly elected members next week. The Harrah’s vote came near the end of the meeting, which spanned from mid-morning until evening, much of which was devoted to discussions on a proposal to allocate $ 35 million to fund moving expenses for residents of Gordon Plaza.

Board members unanimously approved Harrah’s resolution despite a request from school board president Ethan Ashley to delay the vote and reassess the need for the Cantrell administration’s involvement.

“Before we vote on this resolution, it would be my most sincere request to consider whether we need to change the process or just strengthen our relationship,” Ashley wrote in a public comment read aloud by board staff.

In recent years, the NOLA Public School District has attracted challengers for funding, in large part because of the council’s desire to direct funding toward early childhood education. (The district and school board primarily oversee K-12 schools, not early childhood education programs.)

Ashley said the school board had received “brief notice on this extremely important matter,” but thanked incumbent Councilor Jay Banks, for keeping the OPSB in the process in the final version of the resolution.

“Let me be clear that this resolution is not ideal for the school district and we believe the board should not view it as such either,” he said. “This resolution appears to be the result of a lack of relationship between the board and the school district. The council member’s resolution inserts a third entity, the Mayor’s Office for Youth and Families, which luckily is willing to help here, but should not be forced to.

The banks, however, argued that the funding was intended to be used for education at large, and not just for OPSB’s educational programs.

“Joe [Giarusso] teases me about being a dinosaur and that sometimes has its benefits, ”Banks said. “I was actually here when this original legislation was drafted when the lease with Harrah’s was signed and the intention was for the money to be used for education.”

“Now it was by default that it was easy to just say the school board,” he said. “But it was never absolutely necessary that it just be distributed to the school board. The intention was for it to be used for education and that’s what it does.

Without any further comment, the other six board members joined him in the vote to approve the resolution.

Harrah Fund

Since 2004, the NOLA Public Schools District has received money from Harrah’s Fund each year, but the casino’s most recent lease with the city, signed in 2020, no longer explicitly disburses funds to the district. Instead, included a new provision expanding the board’s ability to direct funding toward “education” at the discretion of members.

In recent years, Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell have pushed for increased funding for early childhood education. This included direct funding from the city and an unsuccessful 2020 mileage proposal that was backed by Cantrell.

The Harrah’s Fund is traditionally distributed after the Orléans Parish School Board presents a proposal to the council’s community development committee.

In the past, these funds went directly to the district, but Harrah’s new lease signed in 2020 expanded the council’s ability to direct the money elsewhere. Last spring, the council sought to increase its investment in early childhood education as the district fought for the funds it traditionally received.

NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. appeared before the board in April last year to seek $ 1.5 million in funding for district-wide programs. He also criticized the council for waiting until 2021 to distribute funds that he said should have been paid a year before.

“They are already in our budget. … This would generally have happened in the spring of 2020, ”he said last April.

The council ultimately approved $ 1.5 million for the district to fund three programs – Travis Hill School at the city jail, the district student support office, which houses social workers and monitors absent students. , and the Center for Resilience.

But council members told the district not to expect Harrah’s money in the future.

“Hopefully you will put the $ 1.5 million into your own budget next year,” City Councilor Kristin Palmer said at the time.

At that spring meeting, the board indicated that the school district’s reserve fund was a potential source for the programs it wanted to fund, arguing that Harrah’s Fund money could be better invested in the education of the early childhood. (State and federal funding for K-12 education cannot directly fund early childhood education places.)

Ashley on Thursday slammed the board for letting Harrah’s Fund money languish without disbursing it on time.

“I hope the new board doesn’t let around $ 4 million pile up without a distribution, especially when our school system has been rocked by a pandemic, hurricanes and continues to be as we all work for ourselves. restore, ”he said.

“Overall, I hope we can build a strong partnership to solve our early childhood education issues, where we serve as the co-lead agency and the city’s largest caregiver for our first learners, as well as teaching K-12. “

With the adoption of the resolution, the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families will be at the presentation table of the Harrah Fund in the years to come. Combined with the council’s expressed interest in funding early childhood programs, it seems likely that this will result in increased funding for non-OPSB programs.

In addition, Thursday, the council approved a resolution to register a new millage of preschool education in the poll of April 30. The council estimates the new mileage would bring in around $ 21 million, which could create up to 2,000 early childhood seats with a state match.


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