Southeast BR breakaway school district bills pass state Senate

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, left, questions state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, as White presents his legislation Tuesday that would create a new school district  in southeast Baton Rouge. The state Senate approved the two-bill package. .
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, left, questions state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, as White presents his legislation Tuesday that would create a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge. The state Senate approved the two-bill package. .

New district plan heads to House

A plan that would pave the way for a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge won approval Tuesday in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 199, a proposed constitutional amendment, passed 27-11, which was one vote more than the minimum required for two-thirds approval.

The other measure, Senate Bill 73, which spells out details of the new school system, passed 25-12.

The two-bill package next faces action in the state House, where a similar proposal died last year.

The plan requires legislative approval and, if that happens, majority support statewide and in the East Baton Rouge Parish School District to take effect.

State Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the bills, said they are a response to parents in the area who are dissatisfied with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which the new system would be carved away from.

White said enrollment in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools has dropped from about 65,000 students to about 42,000 students in the past two decades.

“You don’t go from 65,000 to 42,000 if people have faith in your system,” White told the Senate.

But Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, predicted that, if the new district becomes reality, it will have a devastating impact on the capital city.

“It still will bankrupt the East Baton Rouge school system,” Broome said.

She said the proposed move also marks the first time that a new school district would be created from a collection of neighborhoods, not a municipality like Central and Zachary.

“We are causing division within our city,” Broome said.

The new system would be called the Southeast Community School District.

Under the plan, 10 schools used by about 6,800 students would be moved from the East Baton Rouge school system to the new setup.

White and other backers contend a new district will pave the way for a top-flight system, much like the Central and Zachary school districts have flourished since breaking away.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, praised the bills and noted that part of his senatorial district includes part of Central, which has one of the top school districts in the state.

Erdey said residents are happy with the schools there.

“You know why? Because it is performing,” he said.

White said after the vote that his plan has an even chance of winning House approval this time.

“People are finally talking about public education,” he said.

Belinda Davis, president of the anti-breakaway group One Community One School District, said she thinks the House outcome will mirror the 2012 battle.

“It’s hard in the Senate but in the House he faces tougher questions,” Davis said of White and his allies.

The proposed school system would generally extend from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.

The new district would include Parkview Oaks, Jefferson Terrace, Westminster, Cedarcrest, Wedgewood, Shenandoah and Woodlawn elementary schools; Southeast and Woodlawn middle schools and Woodlawn High School.

Voting FOR creating a breakaway school district in Baton Rouge (25): Mr. President and state Sens. Adley, Allain, Appel, Buffington, Chabert, Claitor, Cortez, Crowe, Donahue, Erdey, Guillory, Johns, LaFleur, Long, Martiny, Morrish, Peacock, Perry, Riser, G. Smith, Tarver, Walsworth, Ward and White.

Voting AGAINST SB199 (12): State Sens. Amedee, Broome, Brown, Dorsey-Colomb, Gallot, Heitmeier, Kostelka, Mills, Morrell, Murray, Nevers and Peterson.

Not Voting (2): State Sens. J. Smith and Thompson.

Voting FOR allowing a statewide vote on creating an independent school district for the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish (27): President Alario and state Sens. Adley, Allain, Appel, Buffington, Chabert, Claitor, Cortez, Crowe, Donahue, Erdey, Guillory, Johns, Kostelka, LaFleur, Long, Martiny, Mills, Morrish, Peacock, Perry, Riser, G. Smith, Tarver, Walsworth, Ward and White.

Voting AGAINST SB73 (11): State Sens. Amedee, Broome, Brown, Dorsey-Colomb, Gallot, Heitmeier, Morrell, Murray, Nevers, Peterson and Thompson

Not Voting (1): State Sen. J. Smith