EBR board discusses new magnet programs, attendance zones

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board discussed creating new magnet programs Thursday at Polk and Brookstown elementary schools and redrawing attendance lines for Woodlawn Elementary and two neighboring elementary schools.

The board is not planning to take votes until its next regular meeting Jan. 16.

The board postponed votes on the items last month in order to hold Thursday’s more in-depth workshop.

Taken together, the three proposals would cost an estimated $650,000 in the 2014-15 school year and almost $2.3 million over the course of three years. That’s in addition to renovations planned this summer at Polk, $3.1 million, and at Brookstown, $5 million.

Board member Craig Freeman said expanding magnet programs can generate additional revenue in the form of increased state funding, roughly $3,800 for every new child who enrolls in the school system, or save money, roughly $10,000 per student, by persuading children to stay in the public school system.

Board member Jill Dyason said she wants to see numbers on which types of magnet schools are generating the most demand and perhaps try to replicate those first.

“I don’t want to make emotion-based decisions, I want to make data-driven decisions,” she said.

The magnets proposed for Polk and Brookstown elementary schools would start in the fall.

The Polk proposal calls for expanding foreign language immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to the school. It also would gradually reassign the 227 students attending Polk to nearby Buchanan and University Terrace elementary schools, starting with next year’s kindergartners.

The proposed new programs at Polk are meant to augment similar programs at the nearby Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet, or BR FLAIM, which has a long waiting list, particularly for parents who want their children immersed in Spanish. Its old campus off South Boulevard, however, has space for just 300 students and is in need of repair.

Patrick Morris, president of the parent-teacher organization at BR FLAIM, urged the board to keep looking for a place where both foreign language programs could be together.

He said he’s glad, though, that interest in foreign language instruction is growing.

“It’s an amazing thing to see a fifth-grade student fluently speak to their teacher,” Morris said.

Brookstown, meanwhile, would be converted to a traditional middle school with an estimated 260 students alongside a new magnet program that would accommodate about 225 students.

The Career Academy, a charter school, uses the old Brookstown Elementary campus.

The Brookstown proposal would allow some students who in years past would have gone to Prescott Middle — a school taken over by the state in 2008 — to stay closer to home.

Dyason said her only regret is that hundreds more middle school children will still be taking long bus trips to distant schools.

To free up space for future growth, Woodlawn Elementary would send 148 students to Jefferson Terrace Elementary, which in turn would lead to a shift of 78 Jefferson Terrace students to Westminster Elementary. Several Woodlawn parents who would be affected protested the change when it came up at the board’s Dec. 19 meeting.

Woodlawn Elementary has almost 800 students but is not quite at capacity. Dyason, who represents the area, suggested the school is too full and needs more space to accommodate future growth.

Freeman suggested one way to limit disruption would be to phase the zone change in one grade at a time.