Breakaway school district clears another legislative hurdle

A Louisiana House committee Tuesday approved one of the bills needed to set up a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge, clearing the way for a showdown vote in the full House.

The plan, Senate Bill 73, is part of a two-bill package that would pave the way for the new school system.

Both bills already have passed the state Senate.

The House Civil Law & Procedure Committee approved the proposed ballot measure without objection.

It would be submitted to voters statewide if the bills win final legislative approval.

The committee voted 5-4 to make a slight change in the wording.

Under the original draft, the amendment would ask voters: “Do you support an amendment to grant the Southeast Baton Rouge community school system in East Baton Rouge Parish ...”

Under the revamped wording, it would ask voters: “Do you support an amendment to create the Southeast Baton Rouge community school system in East Baton Rouge Parish ...”

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite and sponsor of the change, said it was important to add the word “create” to the ballot measure to make it clear to voters what would happen.

State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, sponsor of the package, initially objected to the change.

White said the other measure, Senate Bill 199, actually creates a new district.

He said the constitutional amendment simply makes clear that it is part of the state’s public school system and eligible for state aid.

White later agreed to go along with Edwards’ modification.

The action means that, if the bill wins Louisiana House approval, it would have to return to the state Senate for another vote.

White’s plan would carve out 10 schools now in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to form a new district.

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

Backers contend a smaller school system would promote parental involvement and improve academic performance.

Opponents predict that another breakaway school district — it would be the fourth to leave the East Baton Rouge Parish system — would leave behind a school system dominated by students from poor families and one beset by financial problems.

The other bill, which is a change in state law, is already awaiting action in the full House.

It is Senate Bill 199, and White said it may get a House vote this week.

That measure requires majority approval, which is 53 votes in the 105-member state House.

However, since Senate Bill 73 is a proposed constitutional amendment and requires support from two-thirds of the House, or 70 votes.

The session ends June 6.