Barksdale charter school to help students and parents

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In the near future, parents at Barksdale Air Force Base will have a choice about where to their children will get an education — on-base or a parish school.

The preliminary work on a charter school at the base is underway.

The Bossier Parish School Board (BSPB) approved the application for a charter school on Barksdale Air Force Base in early June of last year.

BPSB granted the new charter school a Type 1 status, meaning the local school board is responsible for the oversight and the school will have its own board of directors which governs school finances, operations, and administration.

“I’m very happy they granted our request,” said Terry Snook, President of the Barksdale Global Power Museum Association. “I’ve talked to numerous other charter school organizations and those that have a good relationship with their school board function the best. It’s better to be friends than not.”

The school will accommodate 396 students with the ability to go as high as 800. Snook said the school would being offering K-6 and ramp up to a full K-12 with 800 students in four to six years’ time.

The school will be on the East Reservation area, located close to new base housing.

The charter’s primary focus is on dependent children living on base at Barksdale. Their secondary focus is on dependent children living off-base. Their third focus is instructors and staff of the school, who are not necessarily military.

There is no solid timeline, but Snook expects the school to be open in August 2019.

“Starting up is a major undertaking. We’re going to have to build a building from scratch,” he cautioned.

There is no firm cost, either, but Snook expects it to range anywhere from $8 million to $20 million.

“We have to look at: What level do we build it for? Do we add on quickly or do we build it for full capacity and add on as we can?” Snook said.

The construction would not be paid for by new taxpayer money. The cost would be paid back by money received for each student attending the school, similar to how parish schools receive money for students in attendance.

“No new money, construction would be on our nickel. And we would repay our debt from funding per student,” Snook assured.

With the charter school taking students out of parish schools, the chance is there for friction. However, Snook doesn’t believe the charter school will alienate or distance the base’s relationship with area schools and the school board.

“The school board has been supportive. It will take some adjustment, there could be some angst; but anything new will cause that.”

The BPSB has maintained that they value their long-standing partnership with Barksdale Air Force Base and will remain committed to providing academic options to families that best address the challenges military-connected children face.

Snook said the school board knows the difficulties faced by children of the military, as does the museum board, with near constant relocation and being placed in different social circles.

“It’s not a terrible thing, but when you’re 12 years old and stand in front of a class, it’s not fun,” he said. “I was a ‘military brat’ so we’ve done our share of standing up in front of class and being introduced as the new kid. That’s tough.”

The school will serve Airmen by lessening apprehension for parents who are deployed while making it easier for the family that is left behind.

“Kids could have a father and/or mother who has been deployed four of five times. It’s not an impossible life, and I think the kids in the long run do fine, but having a parent gone is tough,” Snook said.

Another advantage is the school strengthens Barksdale in the face of a future BRAC (base realignment and closure).

“I’ve been a lot of places, this is the most solid relationship I’ve seen between a base and the community during my time in the military. It is second to none. Support has not been an issue and won’t be an issue because (the community) knows the importance (of Barksdale) and supports it,” Snook said.

He pointed out that Barksdale is much bigger now than it has ever been, but adds that a good charter school “could’t hurt” if another BRAC is proposed.

“Who knows what budgetary constraints we will face in the future. You have to look at the permanence of the base, the quality of the facilities here, and the relationship with community. But I don’t see how it could hurt (protecting from a BRAC).”

Talk about a charter school on base began several years ago. Early 2016, the Barksdale Global Power Museum Association asked the Bossier Parish School Board to grant the local charter.

“We had no plans to do a charter school,” said Snook. “But part of what was required was a 501c3 nonprofit, which the museum is, to sponsor it.

The charter school was sought by base leadership in February 2016.

The museum board had to act fast in order to meet the March 3 deadline to file a charter request or else they would have needed to wait another 12 months.

The BPSB has requested 17 acres from BAFB for the school, as law mandates the request for the school has to come from the school board because they are the entity granting authority for the charter.

That has been sent to the Department of Defense for approval, which could take up to a year. The base will then conduct an environmental impact study and wait for the results.

In the meantime, Snook has been contacting construction firms about the project and already has an educational provider in mind for the school.

“That is so when we do get that document back, we’re ready to start the next steps. We want to be ready to roll,” he said.

The Barksdale charter school will be the second on-base school in Louisiana and only the ninth in the United States.

“It will be great for the kids and that’s, really, what we’re concerned about,” said Snook.