By Greg Toppo
Aug. 26, 2008
On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina leveled or damaged most of New Orleans' schools and scattered students and teachers across the country. By then, decades of poor performance had prompted state officials to sweep its worst schools into something called the Recovery School District, or RSD. Last year, they tapped Vallas, 55, to kick the effort into overdrive.
He now presides over 34 traditional schools and another 33 independently run but publicly financed charter schools — a system about as large as the Olathe, Kan., district — with a weakened teachers' union, no local school board or bureaucracy and unprecedented funding. State and federal aid provide about $16,000 a pupil, nearly twice what most districts spend.
Charitable donations add to his bottom line. For instance, the non-profit Kaboom has built state-of-the-art playgrounds at 27 schools at no expense to the city. And state officials announced a $685 million plan last week, paid for mostly by FEMA, to rebuild the city's school buildings within five years. [More]