NEW ORLEANS — The head of a public charter school network in New Orleans has resigned amid an investigation into alleged misconduct exposed in an exclusive WWL-TV investigation.
New Beginnings Schools Foundation CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams resigned Tuesday, the Orleans Parish School Board confirmed, about a month after the the New Beginnings charter board suspended her, with pay; hired attorneys from Adams & Reese to conduct an independent investigation; and OPSB reopened its own probe.
Blouin-Williams continued to draw her $175,000 a year salary while on suspension.
WWL-TV spoke to Blouin-Williams on the phone and asked if she had resigned. She said, “I’m sorry, I can’t take the call now,” and hung up.
The suspension came on the heels of a report by WWL-TV alleging that Blouin-Williams falsified board records to justify a school bus contract worth more than a million dollars a year. The station obtained documents and witness interviews indicating Blouin-Williams signed the contract with Scholars First without bringing the contract before the public board, then fabricated the board’s approval a year later as the board was about to be audited.
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In addition, investigators were looking into allegations that Blouin-Williams hired a friend as a consultant and broke the contract into segments to avoid having to bring a larger contract to the New Beginnings board for approval. The attorneys were also looking into allegations, first reported by The Lens, that officials at one of New Beginnings’ schools, Kennedy High School, may have inflated students’ grades.
A member of New Beginnings executive team under Blouin-Williams was fired for blowing the whistle, and OPSB said it was looking into "allegations of retaliatory acts against an employee."
OPSB Communications Director Tania Dall said Tuesday the school district had been made aware of Blouin-Williams resignation, but continued to investigate.
"Specific allegations under review include: allegations of grade changing, allegations of retaliatory acts against an employee and allegations of open-meetings law violations," Dall said. "We are discussing these serious matters with (New Beginnings) and are in the process of collecting pertinent information to inform the district’s investigation. Additionally, the district is in discussions with (New Beginnings') board regarding its plans to ensure students and families are well-served during this organizational transition."
New Beginnings hired a consultant, Washington, D.C.-based TenSquare LLC, to provide school management services between April 11 and July 31. The company will be paid $90,000 to essentially fill the void left by Blouin-Williams' departure.
New Beginnings board members and attorney Michelle Craig could not be reached for comment Tuesday.