EBR board to shift gifted students, create magnet school

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLANDPatsy Seguin says a prayer for the
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLANDPatsy Seguin says a prayer for the "school system's governance, finances and all retirees' hearts so they won't become hardened," she said, during the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting Thursday.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday put off for two weeks a decision on changing how it provides health insurance to retirees as well as setting the 2014 premium rates of all employees.

The board did agree, over the objections of some parents, to move about 100 gifted and talented students from Glen Oaks Park to Merrydale Elementary this fall to try to increase that latter school’s test scores.

Without discussion, the board also authorized the conversion of Claiborne Elementary School into a dedicated magnet school in 2014, and moving sixth- and seventh-graders out of Glen Oaks High School to a new location.

The proposal to move 100 gifted and talented students this fall from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, a C-rated school, to nearby Merrydale Elementary, an F-rated school, generated some heat Thursday.

The board, in the end, approved the shift in a 10-0 vote. Only board member Vereta Lee, who represents the area, abstained. The move involves Glen Oaks Park adding an estimated 95 students from Merrydale. The school system plans to send those families reassignment notices next week.

The higher-scoring gifted students would likely increase the school performance score of Merrydale from 71.2 to an estimated 77.5 under the shift, high enough to avert a state takeover. Meanwhile, Glen Oaks Park would decrease from 100.7 to 95.6 points.

A new policy approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education requires schools to score at least 75 out of 200 to avoid a failing grade.

A few parents at Glen Oaks Park, however, opposed the shift Thursday, arguing that students and teachers will not go to Merrydale and the change would harm a successful program.

“I understand what Merrydale is getting out of this, but what is Glen Oaks Park gifted kids getting out of this?” asked Lenart Brooks, who has two sons at Glen Oaks Park.

“Even though the campuses are close in distance, their environments are miles away,” said Beau Walker, who has a daughter in prekindergarten at Glen Oaks Park.

School Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith said Glen Oaks Park Principal Cynthia Lange is willing to either move to Merrydale or oversee both schools.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he’s considering Lange’s offer.

Board member Tarvald Smith said he sympathized with the upset Glen Oaks Park parents but said saving Merrydale from state takeover now would be less disruptive than a takeover later.

“This is a hard for me,” Smith said. “It’s not what I want to do, but I feel that it has to be done to save what’s left of the district.”

The School Board has been debating for nearly a year how best to get a handle on the long-term costs of paying for medical care for retirees.

Thursday’s board discussion covered almost identical ground as an April 11 meeting of a special in-house Retiree Insurance Advisory Committee and, like that meeting, came to no resolution. Instead, the board has called a special meeting for May 2.

The main option on the table is to move almost 2,700 Medicare-eligible retirees off the school system’s self-funded plan, where the school system pays for supplemental coverage, including for-prescription drugs, to Medicare through a privately managed Medicare Advantage Plan.

The school system is negotiating with Humana and United Healthcare, the best of 25 companies that submitted proposals earlier this year, to reach a “best and final offer.”

The board had considered approving the 2014 health insurance package Thursday only for active employees and for retirees not eligible for Medicare, but opted to consider all employees at one time.

Mimi Ferrell with Mercer, a health care consulting firm, told the School Board that based on their respective medical claims history, there is no need to increase premiums for active employees, but that non-Medicare retiree premiums would need to increase by 10 percent in 2014. If no change is made to the costs incurred by Medicare-eligible retirees, their premiums would need to go up even more, by 25 percent, according to Mercer.