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Mailout mistake, charter says

LISA Academy recruiting skipped minority zip codes.


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ZIPCODES OMITTED: Principal Luanne Baroni (inset) said LISA will now send out recruitment letters to people in 72202, 72204 and 72209.
  • ZIPCODES OMITTED: Principal Luanne Baroni (inset) said LISA will now send out recruitment letters to people in 72202, 72204 and 72209.

A recruiting mailout from LISA Academy that omitted zip codes from heavily black and Latino neighborhoods (72202, 72204 and 72209) did so by mistake, LISA middle school principal Luanne Baroni said last week.

LISA is an open-enrollment charter school, meaning it is supported by public dollars but operated by a private nonprofit. In March, it won the state Board of Education's approval to increase its enrollment cap from 1,500 to 2,100 so it can add an elementary school in the higher-income neighborhood near Chenal Parkway and Bowman Road. The board approved the expansion over the objections of Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus. Since the vote, Kurrus got his walking papers; he'll be replaced by Bentonville Public Schools Superintendent Mike Poore at the end of June.

LISA's initial mailout of 69,975 letters went to 743 addresses in the 72201 zip code (downtown Little Rock); 12,173 in 72205 (the Hillcrest and Stifft Station neighborhods, stretching west to Interstate 430 and the Baptist Medical Center area); 5,620 in 72207 (the Heights and Cammack Village); 6,827 in 72201 (west of I-430 and south of Colonel Glenn Road); 11,211 in 72211 (west of I-430 along Chenal Parkway); 5,219 in 72212 (west of I-430, including Pleasant Valley); 11,864 in 72113 (Maumelle); 10,579 in 72223 (Chenal Valley, between Kanis Road and Highway 10); and 5,738 in 72227 (Robinwood and River Ridge to Rodney Parham). LISA paid $17,295 for the mailout.

LISA Superintendent Atnan Ekin responded May 10 to the Arkansas Times' inquiries about the targeted mailout by saying that LISA was more diverse than many schools and was growing in diversity.

State enrollment data says LISA Academy, which was founded by a Turkish charter school movement, is 37 percent black, compared with 65 percent in the Little Rock School District. Its percentage of students qualifying for a free or reduced price lunch based on family income is 43.48 percent, compared with 80.9 percent in the LRSD. LISA this year is also 32 percent white, 12 percent Asian and 16 percent Hispanic; 41 students are two or more races, Native American or Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Baroni responded the following day, saying the school intended to reach minority populations with digital, radio and TV advertising.

However, she characterized the failure to send mailouts to largely black and Hispanic neighborhoods as a mistake and apologized. She said the school would send mailers to the three omitted Little Rock zip codes and 72103 (a piece of east Saline County including Shannon Hills), and would hand out flyers in those neighborhoods in coming days.

Baroni said LISA was using radio ads (on Power 92.3 KIPR-FM and Alice 107.7 KLAL-FM) and targeted digital advertising through KATV, Channel 7, to reach zip codes including 72202, 72204 and 72209, as well as digital advertising on KTHV, Channel 11, and KARK, Channel 4. LISA also advertised digitally and in print with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Baroni said the zip code producing the highest number of applications for LISA for 2016-17 was 72204 (central Little Rock south of I-630).

At the March 31 meeting of the Board of Education, Kurrus read from a Jan. 14, 2004, article that stated that LISA was envisioned as serving 200 to 400 students, mostly black and low income. "That's where we started. ... Now we're talking about a unified K-12 system," he said.

Kurrus told the board that data shows that LISA and eStem Public Charter Schools, which also receied state board approval to expand, tend to draw students from the LRSD who are mostly higher-performing: 81.9 percent of the students who left the LRSD to go to eStem and LISA were proficient or advanced in literacy, and 77.2 percent were proficient or advanced in math, according to Kurrus' data. The superintendent called "nonsense" the idea that the charters' primary role is to help students "escape out of violent environments" at troubled traditional schools. 

"I will tell you this," Kurrus said, "I don't see a bright future for the LRSD if it continues to increase as far as its level of poverty because ... students are moving into other environments. "

Together, the proposed LISA and eStem expansions will add almost 3,000 new seats, meaning the district may lose a significant number of students to the charter operators (the LRSD serves around 25,000 students).

Voting against LISA's expansion were state board members Mireya Reith, Vicki Saviers and Jay Barth. Susan Chambers, Brett Williamson, Charisse Dean, Diane Zook and Toyce Newton voted yes. Joe Black was not present. 


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