Breakaway district revived

Backers plan legislative push

Backers of a proposed new southeast Baton Rouge school district unveiled on Tuesday a more detailed plan than they did a year ago for the 10 schools they hope to run.

Norman Browning, a founder of the group Local Schools for Local Children that is behind the proposed breakaway school district, told an audience of about 70 people at Woodlawn Baptist Church that the organization will try again this year to persuade the Legislature to approve legislation paving the way for a new southeast Baton Rouge school district.

Browning acknowledged that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has some wonderful principals and teachers but said the children are not getting the education they deserve.

“With every new superintendent, we have thousands of children that are suffering, our community is suffering, our city is suffering. We can’t wait any longer,” Browning said.

State Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, who sponsored the legislation that last spring was four votes away from passing in the state House of Representatives on its first try in 2012, said at least some waiting is inevitable. On a second try, the legislation was 10 votes short of passing in the House.

White noted that creating a new school district requires a statewide vote to amend the Louisiana Constitution and the next statewide election is not until 2014. That means the earliest a new southeast Baton Rouge school district could start is in fall 2015.

White also said he and new East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor are talking to each other about a possible middle ground where the southeast area would have more autonomy than it currently has short of a full separation from the parish system.

“There might be a scenario where this area could be a possibility,” White said.

“I don’t know how that would happen, but I’m always willing to say there will be dialogue,” he said.

The boundaries of the proposed district will remain the same, extending southeast from the Interstate 10/12 split, south of I-12 and east of I-10 to the parish lines.

The affected schools are Cedarcrest Elementary, Jefferson Terrace Elementary, Parkview Oaks Elementary, Shenandoah Elementary, Wedgewood Elementary, Westminister Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, Southeast Middle, Woodlawn Middle and Woodlawn High.

Browning said the legislation that will be proposed when the Legislature meets this spring will deal with the key complaints the school system lodged last year, including complaints about covering the health-care expenses of retirees, unpaid construction bonds and revenue losses to other school districts in the state.

Browning said the bill proposed will not adversely affect the parish school system financially.

Sheila Lewis, a grandparent of a child in the southeast Baton Rouge area, laid out what she described as a “curriculum” for the new school district.

It suggested changes for all the 10 schools, including the creation of new magnet programs, the preservation of gifted-and-talented services, as well as more focus on areas, such as foreign languages and math and science.

Lewis said the detailed curriculum plan will be posted soon on the group’s website: http://www.localschoolsforlocalchildren.com/

The extra detail appeared to help. The audience’s questions, unlike a year ago, were more precise, and the supporters had more detailed answers.

Livia Babin, a southeast Baton Rouge resident, sends her three children to dedicated, or schoolwide, magnet programs. She opposed the breakaway district a year ago because it lacked magnet schools.

Babin was happy to see the inclusion of magnet schools, but said she would prefer that organizers created schoolwide, or “dedicated” magnet, like the ones her children attend, rather than smaller programs within the school. She said children in smaller magnet programs are too often teased and isolated from other students.

“My children get a private school education with public tax dollars now. Maybe they can do that here too. I don’t know,” Babin said.

Browning said the district backers are planning a series of fundraisers to raise money for the renewed push in the Legislature and a future state referendum.

“We’ve talked the talk, it’s time to walk the walk,” he said.

Three school districts have already been carved out of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system: Baker, Central and Zachary.