Any push to carve another school district out of the East Baton Rouge school system has to address the financial impact of the schools left behind, a report issued on Wednesday says.
Those costs “cannot be left to the declining number of schools and school children that will remain in the district,” the 23-page study says.
The review was financed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp declined to say what the study cost.
BRAC opposed a hotly debated package earlier this year that would have set up a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge, which narrowly failed in the Legislature.
The report was done by Jim Richardson, alumni professor of economics at LSU, and Roy Heidelberg, visiting researcher at LSU.
The study notes that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has long-term financial obligations, including health care costs for former employees that rose by 29 percent between 2008 and 2012, to nearly $35 million per year.
Those costs, and the knowledge that large numbers of employees have over 20 years of service, “should not deter the school system or the people of the parish from changing the format of the schools” in the system, it says.
But how to handle those expenses “does need to be addressed so all school districts will fully share in the financial obligations associated with their new status,” the study says.
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor, who attended a 30-minute briefing on the report Wednesday, said in a prepared statement that the findings “support concerns we raised when the effort to create an independent school district was introduced in the last legislative session.”
That includes “dire financial implications for our district,” Taylor said, and a negative impact on student diversity.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, who sponsored the Southeast bills, noted that his plan required the new district to provide $2.5 million as a starting point for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to handle health care and other costs for former employees.
White called that provision a “good faith gesture” that recognizes the issue, which are called legacy costs.
Three school districts have already been carved out of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system: Baker, Central and Zachary.
The concern about costs stems in part from the fact that, if another district is created, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system would have a shrunken tax base.
The report said that, under the current arrangement, legacy costs, such as for health care benefits, total $866 per student in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. However, that would rise to $1,031 per student if the Southeast district became reality, minus any financial aid to help offset those expenses.
That would rise to $1,231 per student if new districts were set up in both southeast and south portions of the parish, which are scenarios that the study examined.
Richardson noted that a group of troubled public schools taken over by the state, called the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone, could all but constitute yet another district in the parish.
State Superintendent of Education John White said the state would be willing to work on legacy costs for those schools if the issue reaches that level.