BR lawmakers seek to restructure school system

Baton Rouge lawmakers Steve Carter and Dalton HonorĂ© on Monday submitted two bills that would shrink the size of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board from 11 to 7 members and shift most of the board’s and the superintendent’s power to more than 80 school principals.

The bills also would create three “community enrollment zones,” where parents living in those zones would get priority to enroll at schools within the zone as well as “community councils” staffed by “community academic coordinators” who help parents advocate for the children in their community.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber on Monday afternoon announced the submission of the legislation and laid out some of its highlights, though copies of the bills were not available publicly Monday afternoon. The deadline to file bills for the Legislature is Tuesday. The current session ends June 2.

“It’s important to note that this legislation recognizes that major changes like this cannot happen overnight,” said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the chamber, in a statement.

The changes will roll out over a three-year period “to make sure that principals have the resources, training, and support structures they need to be great school leaders,” he said.

BRAC announced March 7 it was in the process of developing legislation that would dramatically restructure the school system and would follow nine principles that the business lobbying organization had settled on.

Keith Bromery , a spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said Monday most of BRAC’s legislative proposals — except for governance issues — reflect initiatives the school system has already enacted or is currently planning.

He said he hoped BRAC would continue to “collaborate with the district” as well as seek the opinion of principals, who are in the best position to offer “advice and guidance regarding their responsibilities and how they impact student achievement.”

BRAC’s legislative push is partly an effort to head off an ongoing petition drive to create a city of St. George by incorporating much of unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish.

The St. George effort was prompted by discontent with the parish school system, which was manifested in two failed attempts to create a breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge.

Rep. Bodi White, R-Central, the author of the breakaway bills, has a new one, Senate Bill 354. It would make it easier for the state to create new breakaway school districts and retroactively bless the Southeast Baton Rouge District that fell just short of legislative approval in 2013. That bill is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

White is also pushing another bill, SB 484, that would keep the East Baton Parish Rouge Parish school system but would divide it into four subdistricts and create deputy superintendents whose chief job would be setting the boundaries of those subdistricts. That bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

The parish School Board on Monday was planning to debate its own answer to the St. George issue. The board’s plan has similarities to the chamber’s proposals, but would not change the powers of the board and the superintendent and pushes less power to principals.

The chamber’s legislation would limit the School Board’s authority over “finances, current and future school facilities, enrollment zones, emergency preparation, choosing and holding accountable the superintendent,” according to the announcement.

The superintendent would hire the principals and then support their efforts, exercising far less control than they currently have.

HonorĂ©, D-Baton Rouge, is the lead author of the legislation to shrink the School Board. Instead of 11 board members elected by the district, HonorĂ©’s bill would have just six election districts plus one at-large seat.

Carter, R-Baton Rouge, is the lead author of the school system restructuring bill.