Board defers talks on regional school plan

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board had planned to debate Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s proposal to turn parts of Baton Rouge into “attendance regions” on Thursday but instead the board will take that issue up at a still-to-be-scheduled special meeting later this month.

The attendance region proposal was on the original agenda for Thursday’s meeting, a “Committee of the Whole” meeting, set to start at 5 p.m., but it was pulled late Tuesday. Also pulled from the agenda were related items calling for applications to create six new charter schools in Baton Rouge — five of them are currently on campuses run by the state’s Recovery School District — and to hire a third party to evaluate the applications.

In an interview Wednesday, Taylor said he made the changes after consulting with School Board President David Tatman. Taylor said the agenda for Thursday’s meeting has several other items likely to take time, so they decided it was better to discuss the attendance region issues on another night.

“Given the enormity of this change and to make sure there is sufficient time to ask questions, we thought it best to do it by itself,” Taylor said.

He said he wants the special meeting to discuss the attendance regions held before Feb. 21, which is when the School Board is holding its regular monthly meeting, but board members are still figuring out which night would work best.

Thursday’s meeting still has plenty left for board members to discuss. The agenda includes a discussion of where to relocate students during the two-year rebuilding of Lee High School as well as updates on employee health care spending and school safety.

In a series of community forums in November, Taylor suggested reconfiguring and remodeling dozens of public schools in four areas of the parish with boundaries that would erase the neighborhood zones of the elementary and middle schools in those regions.

Three of those regions — Capitol, Glen Oaks and Scotlandville — are in north Baton Rouge. Taylor revisited those communities during the past two weeks during a second set of forums. He has altered some of his initial proposals based on the feedback he received in November.

Taylor has postponed announcing plans for schools in the fourth area, located in the southeast part of the parish, which he calls the Woodlawn region.

Taylor said he first wants to conclude discussions he is having with the state Department of Education about the possible return of one or more schools in north Baton Rouge that were taken over by the department for chronically low academic performance. He said he likely will have a forum in the Woodlawn area sometime in March.

Under Taylor’s plan, the school system would set up regional “marketplaces,” pitting school against school in a competition for students and the per-pupil funding that comes with those students.

In the affected regions, public schools would no longer draw students primarily from the neighborhoods surrounding their schools. Instead, students living in multiple neighborhoods across a much larger geographical area would select a school from a menu of options.

The regional menus would include new magnet schools, charter schools, schools with new grade configurations and a range of new but yet-to-be-determined programs and themes. These menus also would include several schools now run by the state’s Recovery School District.

Taylor said he is still talking to state and RSD leaders, particularly RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, about how this will work.

The plan would take three schools RSD runs — Capitol High School and Crestworth and Glen Oaks Middle schools — and plug them into new feeder patterns, which Taylor is calling “families of schools.” For that to work, Taylor said, the parish school system would assign students to the three schools, guaranteeing them enrollment if RSD would agree not to recruit students from outside those schools’ attendance region.

“We’re waiting to get guidance to see if the policy of (the Department of Education) will allow that to happen,” Taylor said.

“I hope it will happen.”

Taylor said he is willing to move forward with a “Plan B” if he can’t reach an agreement with the RSD.